G3 Development Acquires Last Vacant Waterfront Property in Downtown Area

The only substantial piece of empty property in downtown Mount Dora has been sold to developers after sitting unused for 18 years in the hands of an insurance company.

Welcome to the beginning of the gold rush, thanks to the Wekiva Parkway.

The property, called Pineapple Point, is 4.3 wooded acres on Lake Dora that the Great American Life Insurance Company bought in 1998 for slightly more than $2 million.

On Friday, the land was sold to 125NDS, LLC, whose manager is Gerard Guenther Jr., a developer who makes his home in Mount Dora.

Guenther, 49, graduated from Tavares High, married and raised children in Mount Dora. His most recent Lake County development is a nursing home called Skytop on South Lake Hospital property.

He keenly knows how important Pineapple Point is to the city. A view from the air shows that it is wild, forested property on the lakefront — the biggest and only land of its kind in the downtown.

And City Council members should know it, too. Time for them to stop bickering over specks of dust and start working in collaboration with Guenther.

City Manager Vince Pastue, who has resigned and is leaving next week, said, “This will define what is going to happen downtown, will set the tone on whether you have any developers coming here again.”

Guenther said he isn’t yet sure what he wants to build on the property or whether he will have partners. He said he typically builds health-care projects and office properties, but this, he said, will be different. He’s hiring consultants to come up with a idea for the best use of the land.

This isn’t the first time he considered buying the two pieces, for which he paid $2.8 million, about $800,000 above the most recent selling price. He said his group considered, then backed off buying the land when Great American snapped it up in 1998. Guenther said he pulled an accordion file from 1998 out of storage when the land came on market again recently.

“With this property, how to use it has obviously been discussed for a while, and we don’t have a firm plan,” he said. “It’s a strategic piece of downtown, and the plan is to do something that’s really going to help the city long term.”

Guenther, who described himself as a “boutique developer,” said finding a property like this one — a big chunk in the heart of downtown — is “a rare thing.”

Though he doesn’t know what a project might look like, he said public space will be a key component of any plan that he presents to the council. He also said he doesn’t anticipate any housing in the mix.

Guenther, who declined to say whether he has investors, knows about the height restriction of 35 feet in the area and 25 feet within 100 feet of the lake. He said his design “may have to” work with the restrictions.

The property is zoned for commercial use, and Pastue said any number of retail shops from convenience stores to shoe repair are permitted in the area, along with art galleries, parking garages, hotels and theaters. Prohibited are gasoline stations, oil service centers, warehouses, day-care facilities and the like.

How to use this final bit of downtown land has been a controversial topic for years. In the mid-1990s, a developer came to the city with a plan for 30 quaint waterside condominiums. The operators of the Lakeside Inn fought it.

The Inn sought an injunction to keep the condos from being built, claiming they would violate a clause in Mount Dora’s growth plan requiring the protection and preservation of historic structures.

Lawyer Leslie Campione, now a county commissioner, filed the objection, saying a few single-family homes or even office or shop space would be acceptable, but a “major project” was too much to ignore. Later, however, the partnership behind the project fell apart and nothing was built.

Now, Mount Dora has a chance to add a crowning jewel to downtown to serve the city well through what seems destined to be years of coming growth. With the Wekiva Parkway just a few miles outside downtown, more people will want to live — and shop, eat and party — in the charming city.

Guenther promised “something great,” — and that’s cool — but it’s the council’s job to make sure that Mount Dora stays charming and any projects at Pineapple Point mesh seamlessly with its downtown.