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New life for empty lot? Developer sees opportunity in one of Daytona Beach's 'forgotten' areas

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DAYTONA BEACH — Five years after Walmart put its vacant land on the southeast corner of Mason Avenue and Nova Road up for sale, a developer has finally put the 20.5-acre property under contract to purchase.

Clearwater-based Boos Development has already begun marketing the large grass and tree-covered lot as the site of a future retail development. Its name: The Shops at Nova Crossing.

A preliminary site plan submitted to the city's planning department already shows three tenants for the project: a 7-Eleven gas station/convenience store is slated to be on the corner. Immediately to the south along the east side of Nova will be a Mister Car Wash, the national chain that currently operates locations near the intersection of LPGA and Clyde Morris boulevards, on Dunlawton Avenue in Port Orange, and on Yonge Street, just south of West Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach.

A yet-to-be identified self-storage center is penciled in on the southeast portion of the property.

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Jason Ryals, a commercial Realtor with Colliers in Jacksonville, is one of the leasing agents marketing the planned Shops at Nova Crossing on Boos Development's behalf. Ryals said the developer is seeking a rezone from the city that would allow it to proceed with constructing the retail center.

"They have until the end of the year to purchase the property so they have plenty of time," said Ryals, referring to Boos Development's contract to buy the property from Walmart Inc.

Ryals declined to say how much Boos Development is offering to pay for the property. Walmart set an asking price of $5.5 million when it put the land up for sale in 2017.

Land has been in limbo nearly 14 years

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart bought the property for $7.4 million in December 2008 with plans to build a Walmart Supercenter there. The property was previously the longtime home of Father Lopez Catholic High School, which moved to Daytona Beach's LPGA area that same year.

The old high school was demolished in December 2008, according to a video posted on YouTube by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Those plans, which were unveiled the previous year, sparked opposition from some area citizens who expressed concerns about the proposed removal of more than 200 "historic and specimen trees, including old oaks, pines and even a cypress tree or two that have trunk diameters of 12 inches or more," according to a June 2007 News-Journal report.

The planned Walmart Supercenter would have been 160,000 square feet in size with a surface parking lot that could have accommodated as many as 769 vehicles at a time.

The controversial project was quietly shelved by the retail giant during the Great Recession. In 2017, Walmart officially confirmed that its plans for the property were permanently canceled when it put the land up for sale.

Hopeful signs for blighted area

The Mason/Nova intersection is in a long blighted part of town that Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ken Strickland described in an interview as "a forgotten area" marked with a number of aging rundown buildings and empty storefront spaces.

Slowly, but surely, the immediate area surrounding that intersection has started to see some improvements.

A new Wawa gas station/convenience store opened last year on the northwest corner, which previously was an abandoned gas station that was a magnet for panhandlers and homeless people.

The northeast corner was an old Tire Kingdom that closed in 2015. It was torn down to make way for a standalone KFC fast-food eatery that opened two years later.

About a half block west of the intersection stands an aging shopping center along Mason Avenue called Masonova Commerce Park. It was sold on April 29 for $6.9 million to a Miami-based real estate investor, confirmed Andy Clark, the former owner.

Clark's primary business is the Port Orange-based All Aboard Storage chain, whose self-storage locations include a 50,000-square-foot center that continues to serve as an anchor tenant at Masonova Commerce Park.

Clark said he recently bought the vacant boarded-up three-story former Surety Bank building at 1011 Mason Ave., near the Masonova Commerce Park, with plans to convert it into a climate-controlled self-storage center that will essentially double the size of his existing All Aboard Storage center there. His expansion plans for that location includes the construction of a one-story standalone building as well.

"We're going to go from having 400 units to 800 there, hopefully by the end of 2023," Clark said.

Ryals acknowledged that the planned Shops at Nova Crossing in addition to the new Wawa and KFC are not enough by themselves to significantly change the public's perception of the area surrounding the Mason/Nova intersection as blighted.

Project still in 'very, very early stages'

However, Ryals said Boos Development's project could serve as "a catalyst" for further development in that area.

Ryals said Boos Development's decision to put the former Father Lopez property under contract to buy from Walmart is an indication of how hot the market for commercial development sites have become in the Daytona Beach area. "There's not a lot of land left," he said, referring to available properties that could accommodate new retail and other commercial development.

The Mason/Nova intersection also offers a high volume of traffic. According to data on the Florida Department of Transportation website, the intersection in 2021 saw a daily average of 34,500 vehicles pass by on Nova, heading north or south, and an average of 19,600 vehicles pass by on Mason, heading east or west.

Ryals said the project is generating interest from prospective tenants for the property's three remaining available outparcels, but said there is nothing more to announce at this time.

Buddy Budiansky, a commercial Realtor with Realty Pros Commercial, said he is amazed at the number of inquiries he gets from convenience store chains and car wash operators interested in sites to open new locations.

"They'll do well there," he said of the proposed 7-Eleven and Mister Car Wash at The Shopsat Nova Crossing. "Is it the highest and best use? I don't know. Anything's better than nothing there. If there are going to be multiple tenants, that would be a great thing. Look, Daytona's hot and very cheap right now (compared to development sites in other Florida coastal communities) and those guys (Walmart) have been sitting on that land for more thana decade."

Clark said he, too, is astonished to see how many self-storage centers are popping up in the area, which is one of the reasons he is looking to expand his All Aboard Storage location at Masonova Commerce Park. "There's a big demand," he said.

Strickland declined to comment on the merits of the proposed Shops at Nova Crossing project because he has yet to fully review the preliminary plans submitted so far by the developer.

"This is still in the very, very early stages," he said. "It all sounds good, but it's too early in the game to know if it'll come to fruition."

Speaking in general terms, Strickland said, "That area (the stretch of Mason Avenue that is part of the City Commission zone he represents) needs a lot of help. I will do anything I can to improve that area. That particular stretch of Mason has been forgotten for far too long."

 

Source: The Daytona News-Journal 

 

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