Lust for life
The lone Mills Park holdout looks for a way out
Published: December 30, 2010
It shouldn’t be cause for alarm, but stepping into the sleepy retail storefront of Lust Cash Transactor at the corner of Virginia Drive and Mills Avenue is literally just that. The piercing rattle of a rigged alarm system attached to the front door makes for a strange welcome, as do the floor-to-ceiling pieces of historical electronic bric-a-brac – old computer monitors, brass cash registers, vintage typewriters – which recall the dusty attic of an old man with a hobby. That man is 80-year-old Mark Lust, the proprietor of this cash-register repair business for some 35 years and resident of the adjoining garage apartment out back. He is a relic of Orlando’s so-called ViMi District: the old, paved retail corridor that juggles Floridian character and strip-mall utility. Lust is a working man with a singular vocation who relocated to the City Beautiful in its darker days because it seemed like an “up and coming city.” Now, due to tough economic times (or just the passing of time in general) he’s fighting for his professional life.
“Everybody walking in here says, ‘Boy, the city’s really got you in a squeeze,’” he says. “‘They’re trying to squeeze you out.’”
Lust was the last holdout when developer Justin Pelloni brokered a deal in 2006 with the city to convert the old Mills-Nebraska lumber yard – a perennial symbol of urban blight – into what was to become a vital catalyst for redevelopment. Four years later, Mills Park remains a fenced-off vacant lot full of dirt. The Mills Park sales offices just around the corner from Lust are empty; the real estate salad days are over. Though Lust’s store remains open, it’s hardly thriving. That could easily be attributed to the outmoding of his services, but to hear Lust tell it, it’s the fault of the city and developers.
Recent road improvements funded by the Florida Department of Transportation have swallowed up the on-street Mills Avenue parking his patrons used, and the city’s rush to reimagine the region as a mixed-use paradise has effectively rendered his business an anomaly atop an eyesore. Lust is claiming that he’s a victim of inverse condemnation – meaning the city has made his property worthless and should buy it. The city asserts that he’s just a victim of the times caught up in a private property war beyond its control.
“I’ve been screwed,” Lust says.
Mills Park was going to change everything, and then the bottom fell out of the economy. Pelloni finalized the purchase of the 15 acres – minus Lust’s parcel – in 2006, thereby realizing the city’s longstanding vision for a renovated regional hub. Initially the project included 78,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, 272,000 square feet for office space and 564 residential condos, all at a cost of $350 million. There would be green spaces, theaters, parking garages and a portion of the Dinky Line Trail (a segment of the city’s vaunted “urban” bicycling path) to be paid for by Pelloni. It was ideal.
Until it started to fall apart. Pelloni partnered with Orlando developers ZOM Inc. (responsible for The Waverly and The Paramount condos downtown) in 2007 to develop the residential component, referred to as “The Hudson,” but by 2008 the plans were adjusted to match the economy: there would be 425 rental apartments instead.
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