Popular plaza shops to vacate
Tenants unhappy with hastened termination
Published: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 21, 2012 08:05
Do you think University Shoppes should be torn down?
The demolition of the University Shoppes Plaza across from the UCF main campus has been making rounds in the rumor mill since 2009 and, until recently, wasn’t taken very seriously.
On Thursday, University Shoppes business owners were surprised with letters sent by certified mail advising that their leases would not be continued. The date of termination fluctuates from business to business. Some were given until May 31 — two weeks from now — to vacate the premises while others were given until Sept. 30 to relocate.
Lisa D’Alessandris, owner of Allure Salon, has been in the plaza since Aug. 29, 2011 and was advised upon signing her lease that a demolition was coming soon.
“It was supposed to happen two or three other times but no one believed it; supposedly there were permitting issues,” D’Alessandris said. “I’m the only owner in the plaza that has an actual lease, others just have month-to-month [contracts]. I’m stuck in this lease until Sept. 30 even if everyone else leaves the property.”
Shayan Elahi, candidate for Florida House of Representatives District 49 — a district designed to represent the students at UCF, among other colleges — held a press conference at University Shoppes on Thursday to discuss the issues surrounding the demolition of the plaza.
“This [small businesses] is the backbone of our economy," Elahi said. “It’s very easy to support big businesses, but we have to support small businesses and treat them with respect, too.”
Elahi, a UCF graduate, has been coming to this plaza for 22 years and is working to get the voices of the owners heard.
“I used to come here [Underground Bluz] back when it used to be called Java Jams,” Elahi said.
Underground Bluz has been in business since 2002. Its owner, Betty Whitcomb, graduated from UCF in 2001 with a degree in accounting and wanted to create a safe place for students to have a good time.
“Kids come in here calling me ‘Mom;’ parents have come in here after graduation thanking me for watching after their children,” Whitcomb said. “This spot has done me well for years, and now I’m considering giving it all up because of the difficulty of finding a new spot.”
Many of the owners said that relocating to one of the other plazas across from campus is nearly impossible.
“Rent has gone up in nearby plazas because owners know these businesses are looking for somewhere to relocate,” Whitcomb said. “Even the rent for the current owners in those plazas has been hiked up.”
Whitcomb was one of the owners requested to vacate the premises by May 31. She plans to lower the prices of her drinks to market value before closing her doors for good, but she isn’t sure exactly when that would officially happen.
The plaza is being leveled to make way for a brand-new student housing unit slated for an opening in August 2014. According to an Orlando Sentinel story published Aug. 14, 2011, more than 500 residential units with about 1,500 beds will be built over two phases. Plans include a first-floor shopping plaza and four floors of residential units, according to the Orlando Sentinel, but none of the current business owners have been offered a spot to come back and reopen.
American Campus Communities, the Texas-based company that bought the plaza for more than $27 million, owns several student apartment complexes in the UCF area including the Edge, Northgate Lakes, the Village at Alafaya Club and the Village at Science Drive.
Student Government Association President Cortez Whatley believes this redesign is taking over part of UCF’s tradition.
“This plaza has grown into the UCF culture. I know when I have guests in town, I always bring them to Lazy Moon because it’s just a staple part of UCF for me,” Whatley said. “With our increasing student population, [new] housing is necessary. I’m not sure it was needed in this particular spot, but we’ll see in time.”
Jordan Allen, a 21-year-old political science major, frequents Knight Library and Lazy Moon.
“It will negatively impact us [UCF community] at first but incoming students who don’t know about this place yet won’t really see it as an issue,” Allen said.
For some, the demolition means more than just losing tradition; it may mean losing a college education as well. The owners of the Miss Saigon restaurant were given a notice to vacate the premises by Sept. 30, but no explanation was given in the letter.