Some companies specialize in building retail centers. Others have carved a niche constructing commercial structures, single-family homes, apartment communities, or hotels and resorts. In southeast Orlando, Tavistock Development Company is showcasing its expertise in all of those specialties with its marquee project: Lake Nona, a community that integrates well-being innovation with artistic aesthetics.
What started out as a plan for a unique “medical city” focused on integrating cutting-edge research with everyday healthy living has morphed into something even its creators couldn’t have imagined. Today, more than 20 years after its conception as a master-planned community, Lake Nona has grown to 11,000 acres and is becoming a destination for high-performance training for medical specialists, athletes, corporate executives and other people interested in innovation.
“For us, it’s about creating an environment,” said Jim Zboril, the company’s president since 2004. “When I say, ‘Where is the best experience you’ve ever had?’ you probably aren’t thinking about the building. It’s probably about who you were with, what you were doing and how you were enjoying the environment you were in, which is much more comprehensive than just the building. At our core, we build places, we build physical spaces, but the magic is when they’re activated with people and programming.”
Tavistock is a unique company because it’s owned by a person instead of a corporation or an investment group, Zboril says. British businessman and investor Joe Lewis owns more than 200 companies in 10 countries as part of the Tavistock Group portfolio. Forbes magazine listed him as the 388th wealthiest person in the world in 2018 with $5 billion in assets.
“That gives us a great amount of rope to do unique projects and unique deals because we don’t report to Wall Street and don’t have some of the corporate issues of large hierarchical companies,” Zboril says. “We are very much a flat organization where a lot of times authorizations are just me calling the owner and him answering in a matter of minutes. That gives us a unique opportunity.”
Part of that opportunity involves the ability to plan for the long term instead of turning over a project quickly to recoup an investment, Zboril says. Lake Nona is about a vison for the future. The seeds of that vision started 30 years ago with the opening of the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, a private residential community that was the site of the first Solheim Cup women’s golf championship in 1990 and has since hosted numerous PGA and LPGA tournaments.
Today, anchors in place for Lake Nona’s expanding 650-acre Medical City campus include:
A 1.2 million-square-foot Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center.
A 630,000-square-foot Nemours Children’s Hospital, one of only two in the nation.
A University of Central Florida (UCF) Lake Nona Cancer Center, which recently moved into a 175,000-square-foot facility vacated by the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.
A UCF Health Sciences Campus that includes the College of Medicine and the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.
A 110,000-square-foot University of Florida (UF) Academic Research Center, which houses the UF College of Pharmacy’s doctoral program.
A 204,000-square-foot UCF/HCA Healthcare teaching hospital, UCF Lake Nona Medical Center, set to open in 2020.
A 92,000-square-foot GuideWell Innovation Center, a multi-tenant building for companies in life sciences, health and wellness innovation, and technology.
A 35,000-square-foot Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute that is double the size of its previous Lake Nona building.
Other anchor developments in place or taking shape that guarantee Lake Nona will be a different kind of community, especially with its close proximity to Orlando International Airport, include:
• The 100-court U.S. Tennis Association National Campus, which opened in 2017 and brings in competitive players, coaches and sports professionals from all over the world.
• An 800,000-square-foot training facility for global audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG, set to open in 2020 with 800 guest rooms, food and beverage venues, and a museum.
• The first Drive Shack golf simulation complex in the nation, a competitor to Top Golf.
“For the next three to five years, we’re going to see taller buildings that are closer together because we’re trying to build more of an urban experience,” Zboril said. “We’re not in a hurry to develop the last piece of dirt here. What we’re trying to do is create a special place, and we’re trying to drive density to a reasonable amount. For instance, we could’ve just built single-family houses and sold out long ago. We’re trying to build higher-density buildings and create more of a ‘neo-urban’ or ‘new urban’ place.”
Tavistock owner Lewis is known for his extensive art collection, and Lake Nona is integrating that appreciation for aesthetics into its landscape. A new two-story statue of a mirrored Labrador dog stands at the entrance to Lake Nona’s emerging city center, which includes restaurants, office space, hotels and apartment buildings. Another recent addition is
Nearby, people who drive to the city center can park in a five-story garage that features The Code Wall, a dramatic pattern of 1’s and 0’s carved in a binary code that spells out Tavistock’s corporate values. A six-story flared tower called The Beacon serves as the garage’s anchor, a solid white structure in the daytime that turns into a lamp at night, displaying different colors and patterns depending on the occasion. The Code Wall, The Beacon and the Labrador statue are all works by Lake Nona artist Jefre.
“We have lots of land and we’re building structured parking,” Zboril says. “Why are we doing that? Because we don’t want seas of parking where you have to walk so far to get to a building.”
“We’re not thinking we’re going to have 30-story buildings like the downtown Orlando core. But we do have 10-story buildings, and we’ll have multiple buildings in the four- to 10-story height range. We’re trying to bring uses together so
A short drive away, another center of activity includes the lakefront Canvas Restaurant & Market, with an outdoor space that features a see-through mosaic structure called The Glass House by New York artist Tom Fruin.
Next on the horizon: Development of an eight-story hotel situated on the largest Crystal Lagoon in the U.S. Built with patented technology, the 15-acre body of water will look like a swimming pool along the shores of Lake Nona. Tavistock will operate the resort and will fill in the area around the lagoon with retail and other development.
Top floors of Lake Nona’s buildings offer sweeping vistas of flat land and views of the downtown Orlando skyline, Orlando International Airport, International Drive and the theme parks — for now.
“The longer we’re here, the more dense this will become,” Zboril says. “Lake Nona is going to look and feel like a city with an urban core.”
Today the team at Tavistock Development numbers about 180 after growing almost 50 percent in the past two years. The company will continue to hire for jobs ranging from construction to hotel management to marketing to accounting for the offices,
“To have that kind of growth, one of the most important things we have to focus on is our culture — and maintaining the culture that got us here,” Zboril says. “And the culture of our owner, which is to be more entrepreneurial, not to be bureaucratic, to bring deals forward, to be creative.”
“We’ve done all these things to talk about who we are and what we expect of people,” Zboril says. “That helped us build and retain this workforce in a competitive environment.”
Coming Soon: Sunbridge
To the east, Tavistock is working on another development that will be double the size of Lake Nona at 24,000 acres and promises to further change the face of Central Florida. Sunbridge will straddle two counties, with most of the community in Osceola and the rest in Orange.
Plans call for the project to focus first on residential development, gradually integrating commercial opportunities and other types of construction to form a community focused on preservation and innovation. The vision calls for miles of connected trails and nearly 13,000 acres of conservation land.
Zboril is excited about both Lake Nona and Sunbridge, which will continue to bring more visitors to Central Florida — people who just might decide to stay and help shape the region’s future.
“For us, it’s an amazing front porch to tell the story of Orlando, the other half of it,” he says. “Everybody knows about Orlando, but they don’t know about other businesses here outside the tourism industry.
“Central Florida is a really unique place. We’re still able to make a difference on the future. It’s not all created and done. There are other markets where it’s more built out and positioned as established. Here, there’s still so much opportunity.”