The coffee shop, which was recently voted “Best Coffee” by Orlando Sentinel readers, has been in business for 18 years and run by the same ownership team for the last 16 years, and has hosted countless art events, open mics, and concerts through the years.
Co-owner Jackie Moore told Bungalower that the level of talent had been so high in recent years that she was given a direct contact number to scouts for America’s Got Talent in case any particularly talented bands came through her doors. Performers who have done sets at Austin’s have indeed gone on to perform on that show as well as programs like The Tonight Show Starring Jimy Fallon.
The property was also hand-painted by beloved folk artist Morgan Steele, who passed away in 2016 in a car accident. Steele also painted signs at the now-closed Dandelion Cafe in the Mills 50 district, and one of his signs is now part of the collection at the Orange County Regional History Center, making Austin’s one of the last remaining spaces to see Steele’s work on display.
Yet, since 1994, the Winter Park City Commission and the Community Redevelopment Agency of Winter Park have been planning to purchase the property located between 929 to 957 W. Fairbanks Avenue to expand the nearby Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. The plan has been on hiatus for years as the CRA focused on other efforts closer to downtown but, as Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight told Bungalower earlier this week, the CRA is set to dissolve in 2027 and older projects with loose ends, like this one, are starting to resurface.
The plan to expand the park parallels the construction of the new Library and Events Center in the northeastern quadrant of the park and the nearby baseball fields, but the main focus of the property acquisition, according to Knight, is to add a travel lane to the northern side of Fairbanks Avenue, which happens to be where Austin’s Coffee is located, directly in the right-of-way.
We first wrote about the project HERE in late February, which is also looking to add a right turn lane on southbound Denning, as seen in the graphic below – which Knight emphasized was a very early placeholder of a design and likely to change as the project moves forward. Knight also stated that it may not even be a parking lot in the future, and the property could possibly be repackaged and sold after adding the new travel lane -like when the City purchased, demoed, and sold the former Bowl America property up the street at 1111 W. Fairbanks Avenue [GMap].
The City of Winter Park has engaged real estate brokerage JLL to contact landowners between Denning and Ward Avenues to gauge their levels of interest in possibly selling to the City and they’ve already received a few bites, including from Avanti Properties which owns the site where Austin’s Coffee is located, and they allegedly expressed some willingness to sell for a price of $3 million, but with no real intention of selling. Other businesses under the shadow of the road expansion project include Spatz Deli and Billiard Liquor, Krungthep Tea Time, Nail Alchemy, and Vines and Forks by the Wine Barn.
Despite the lack of interest in selling, or perhaps because of it, the property owners were told during discussions with JLL that should they choose not to sell, that eminent domain, while highly unlikely, was on the table and could be used to force a sale at a later date but for a lower price.
Knight informed us that while it was certainly an option, three of the five sitting commissioners would have to vote in favor of eminent domain, but only as a last resort. But, as we see it, with the purchase of the property being framed as benefitting the Public Good by alleviating current traffic backups on that stretch of road, it wouldn’t be that hard to convince them.
Sitting Winter Park Commissioner, Marty Sullivan told Bungalower that while the timeline for the project is years away, he does not expect the brick and mortar locations to survive. Suggesting that there were plenty of empty storefronts in the area that they could be relocated to. Sullivan also said, that selling to the City now would allow the current tenants and business owners more freedom in operating in-place before inevitably being forced to move, without “…fear of the properties flipping to new owners who simply want to turn the properties for profit, and have no-one to turn to for help,” and that he was “… surprised at the outpouring of support for Austin’s Coffee.”
JLL has already brokered a deal with nearby Imperial Laundry and Dry Cleaners to sell to the City of Winter Park for $750,000 ($300,000 for the business and $450,000 for the property), which was approved by City Commission last month.
A “Save Austin’s Coffee” campaign was launched last week.
City Manager Randy Knight reiterated multiple times that this is likely a project that could take up to seven years and contingent on acquiring all of the properties along that stretch of Fairbanks, before anyone would be forced with the decision to move. Each business is also operating under their own independent leases that would need to be looked at before a project timeline could be made public.