There's so much history connected with the site of Orlando's Baldwin Park, a new, mixed-use, 1,093-acre community, that it's not surprising that the developer has seized upon the past for much of this TND's newfound identity. But rather than play up its rah-rah military provenance in any expected way—the land supported a series of Army and Navy facilities from 1940 until the Pentagon shut things down in 1993—the forces behind this vibrant infill project have focused on capturing a nostalgic, pre–World War II sense of place. That means no entrance monuments with cute airplane motifs, no Admirals Way or Aviator Alley. Instead, the small-town appeal and architectural heritage of Baldwin Park's neighbors have driven the design of this forward-thinking, urban community.
“Central Florida has a fair reputation as perhaps straying a bit from decent architecture over the last few decades,” says David Pace, a veteran of Disney's Celebration and Baldwin Park's current managing director. “If you grew up here, as I did, you know that central Florida has thousands of real, classic beauties from the '30s and '40s, so we've focused on that era [for inspiration]. Baldwin Park feels very much like what a new development would have felt like back then.”
Pace and others associated with the Orlando-based developer, Baldwin Park Development Co. (doing business as Orlando NTC Partners), didn't have far to travel for architectural inspiration. Local examples of Revival, Classical, Craftsman, Florida Vernacular, Coastal, and Mediterranean architecture abound in places such as Winter Park, College Park, Audubon Park, Delaney Park, and Thornton Park. (The “park” aspect of those established neighborhoods also didn't go unnoticed. Baldwin Park, named after Robert H.B. Baldwin, who served as Undersecretary of the Navy when the Naval Training Center (NTC) was commissioned in 1968, will have more than 200 acres of parks.) The result was a pattern book with close to 20 different architecture styles and some rigorous requirements.
“Our design guidelines are 100 percent central Florida,” says Pace. “We stood in some of the great streets of Winter Park and Orlando, took photographs, and turned that into matrices, descriptions, and proportions to give builders the guidance to help them be part of some really good place-making.”
Some of the country's premier builders have been tapped to put up houses at Baldwin Park, which is located less than three miles from the center of Orlando. At build-out, projected for 2008, it will have 1,200 detached homes, 2,400 attached units in townhomes and apartments (for sale and rental), and 950,000 square feet of retail and office space. Production builders, working on lots that range in size from 45 to 70 feet wide, include Cambridge Homes, David Weekley Homes, and Issa Homes. Rey Homes and Issa Homes are building town-homes and condos. Custom builders, putting up 3,000-plus-square-foot houses on 90-foot lots, include Cahill Construction, Derrick Builders, Goehring & Morgan Construction, Hannigan Homes, J. Richardson Watson Construction, and Rex-Tibbs Construction.
“The architectural guidelines are extremely rigorous, as is Baldwin Park's adherence to TND principles,” says David Weekley, president of Houston-based David Weekley Homes. “We build in 14 cities around the country and see lots of folks doing TND ‘lite,' which can be appropriate when you don't have the land position to support a true TND. But with Baldwin Park's location right next to downtown, it has the ability to be a true TND community in every sense of the word.”
Demolition Derby Baldwin Park Development Co. won the right to buy (price: $5.8 million) and develop the former NTC in the summer of 1998 after an arduous five-year process carried out by the city of Orlando and the Navy. Not surprisingly, a 1,093-acre parcel near downtown Orlando was something that interested many developers. “It was the hole in the doughnut,” says Pace. “The city grew up around it.”
But it had environmental issues that weren't for the faint of heart—or light of wallet. There was lead paint and asbestos in the buildings and arsenic in the landfill. The NTC also had little in the way of infrastructure (no sidewalks or curbs, no stormwater management system), so demolition was really the only way to go (see “Cleanup Stats,” below). The process took 16 months and cost $1.7 million. On Aug. 17, 2001, the city of Orlando officially announced that Baldwin Park had met all the conditions necessary to be designated a greenfield property.
At least one environmentalist notes that things can only improve with the development of Baldwin Park. “Developing the old Navy base land was not an ecological concern, because any natural elements on the land were gone 50 years ago,” says Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida. “The land has all to gain and nothing to lose.”
Architectural Value You won't find any gates or entry monumentation as you enter Baldwin Park, which is connected to the rest of the city by 23 roads that had once dead-ended into the NTC. “We mark our entries with a small, subtle post and a big tree,” says Pace. “You know you're here simply because there's been a change in the architecture and detail.”
Baldwin Park has the kinds of amenities that many new developments tout—parks, lakes, jogging trails, a community center, a waterfront village center with plenty of shopping, dining, and office space—but it's the homes that are the real story. The architectural styles being built here read like a greatest hits list and revolve around six classic interpretations: Revival, Classical, Craftsman, Florida Vernacular, Coastal, and Mediterranean. More than 90 percent of what's been built—and will be built—in the community has a front porch of some sort. Not just a porch slapped on to fulfill some sort of New Urbanist/TND quota, but a front porch that makes sense for a particular house.
“They have very high architectural standards for the builders,” says Bill Orosz, president of Cambridge Homes of Altamont Springs, Fla. “We [builders] don't often speak real friendly about our developers, but in this case they have done a terrific job of having a vision and setting very high de velopment standards.”
Pace is thoroughly convinced that top notch design makes sense not just from an aesthetic point of view but also from a busi ness perspective. “I don't believe that a sin gle architectural requirement that costs the builder something doesn't also have a value to it,” says Pace. “We really do believe that there is a value proposition all the way through the chain for creating a place that people will talk about when they leave. We aren't trying to win architectural awards We're trying to create a place that's com fortable and has great scale.”
That means things like narrow residential streets that follow a traditional grid, most with alleys for rear garage access. Some hous es are clustered around a mews area that's planted with mature trees (the developers saved and moved close to 80 trees, some weighing in at 150,000 pounds apiece). From the outside, the houses are all reminiscent of pre-World War II architecture; inside, they're made for modern living with such fea tures as open floor plans, casual entertaining areas, bonus rooms, and large master bed rooms. “All the things that a contemporary buyer would want,” says Weekley. Single family detached homes range in price from $287,490 for a Charleston Single to $2 mil lion for some of the custom elevations.
So who's buying? That's been a bit of a surprise for both the developer and builders “It's been overwhelming,” says Pace. “We have many, many more locals moving in here, people who are already 20 or 30 years en trenched in the local marketplace. We've got old people and young people, married couples and divorcees. It's a very, very eclectic mix of people, which exactly mirrors the mix that you would see in a downtown type of community.” But there's also a large contingent of folks who just wanted a new home in a subdivision, who might have settled miles away from the city in times past. So far, close to 500 homes have been sold in this first phase, which began in the fall of 2002.
“You don't often see those two groups mix,” says Pace. “It's been fascinating to watch.”
Project: Baldwin Park, Orlando, Fla.; Size: 1,093 acres; Total units: 3,600; Price: $232,700 to $625,990 (production), $800,000s to $2 million (custom); Developer: Baldwin Park Development Co. (doing business as Orlando NTC Partners), Orlando; Builders: (production) Cambridge Homes, Altamont Springs, Fla.; David Weekley Homes, Houston; Issa Homes, Celebration, Fla.; Rey Homes, Orlando; (custom) Cahill Construction Co., Orlando; Goehring & Morgan Construction, Orlando; Derrick Builders, Kissimmee, Fla.; Hannigan Homes, Winter Park, Fla.; J. Richard Watson Construction Co., Ocoee, Fla.; Rex-Tibbs Construction, Maitland, Fla.; (multifamily) Centergate Residential, Chicago; Unicorp National Development, Orlando; Architect: Looney Ricks Kiss, Memphis, Tenn.; Land planners: SOM, Chicago; Miller Sellen Conner and Walsh, Orlando; Landscape architect: Glatting Jackson, Orlando; PBS&J, Orlando
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.