By Palmer Hasty
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Visionary Orlando real estate developer Craig Ustler, president and owner of Ustler Development, plans to redevelop the Parramore neighborhood into a thriving, diverse community that he envisions being like today’s revitalized Brooklyn. That’s not an easy task when you consider that as recently as 2009, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel called it “the city’s most downtrodden community.”
Earlier this year Ustler told the Orlando Business Journal, “land in Parramore will be more valuable in 10 years than Thornton Park because of the creativity and diversity. It’s why people pay more to live in Brooklyn than SoHo in Manhattan. That’s what a great urban place does.”
Jim Sellen, a principal at Vanasse Hangen & Brustlin, Inc. in Orlando, told the OBJ in reference to Ustler and his vision for Parramore, “I think he is absolutely correct. This is hopefully the next great downtown neighborhood.”
Ustler gave a brief interview with the Brooklyn Eagle.
Being a prominent developer in Orlando, Florida; what are your connections to New York City and Brooklyn?
Mine is not an abstract connection. I have an apartment in NYC in Murray Hill and have spent about one week of every month in NYC for the last 10 years or so. I see NYC as the greatest urban laboratory in the world, and use a lot of my time in the city to find ideas and inspiration for future projects that might be a good fit for my hometown, downtown Orlando.
How would you classify yourself, and your company as a force in urban development?
I am an urbanist at heart and think that much of what has happened in NYC will play itself out in most other major American cities. This is already occurring in a lot of places. We develop mixed use properties, and we own and operate restaurants. I like to say that we build neighborhoods and communities, rather than “projects.”
(To read about more Brooklyn connections in Florida and around the country, visit our Blog brooklynitesinflorida.com)
So what do you find inspirational about Brooklyn?
I have been very interested in how Brooklyn has evolved over the past several years. It’s a great blend of authentic, diverse and meaningful urbanism that appeals to a significant population, especially the demand drivers, the millennials, the creative class and the empty nesters.
You don’t just read about Brooklyn, you experience Brooklyn, and for a purpose.
Absolutely. I spend many days walking the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Places like Park Slope, Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens and DUMBO. These are all examples of the medium scale, unique and mixed-use urbanism, which I believe will be the most demanded type of development for many decades to come. The good news is that this type of urbanism is driven by true diversity – age, income, national origin, household size, education level, marital status, etc. And this inherent diversity is enhanced by multiplying on itself.
What brought you to see a connection between Brooklyn and a future Parramore?
By embracing diversity and seeing how things have played out in places like Brooklyn, I believe Parramore will become the most sought after urban location for the population cohorts I mentioned above. That line of thinking led me to my vision for the redevelopment of the Parramore in downtown Orlando. I see the street life and neighborhood development patterns in Brooklyn as being a case study in how to reinvent and improve older, historical urban locations that can ultimately be the benefactors of a new focus on real, unique, locally-driven, meaningful diversity; walkable and mixed-use places to live, work, play and learn.