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Kuhn's Vision: Hip and Trendy Benchmark

Design of 'real cool' project would include rooftop retail, bowling alley and more.

ORLANDO -- Details of Cameron Kuhn's next mega-project slowing are emerging.

Newly named the Benchmark Building, the planned project apparently is an attempt by Kuhn to create a downtown destination similar to those in Tampa and Seattle. Kuhn, in fact, envisions the 600,000-square-foot commercial and office condo building planned for the corner of Washington and Orange avenues as an epicenter for the hip and trendy, downtown crowd.

A key component of the $100 million project -- which so far has no financial backing -- would be 200,000 square feet of retail space, half of which would be propped on top of an 11-story, 2,400-spot parking garage. Among the stores planned there: a drugstore, dessert eateries and restaurants.

"It's a hip-hop, real cool project," Kuhn says.

More intriguing, Kuhn wants to incorporate a bowling alley into the center, mimicking Seattle's downtown hotspot The Garage and Tampa's Splitsville, which has a bowling alley, billiard hall, dinner lounge and bar.

A Splitsville principal believes the Orlando project has a chance of success.

"I think it would work, but it needs to be more than a nightclub," says Splitsville co-owner Mark Gibson. "He needs to hit on all cylinders to make the margins attractive."

Gibson's company, Orlando-based Millennium Management Group, also owns Player's Grill on International Drive and Ybor's Martini Bar in Church Street. Gibson, who leases office space from Kuhn, says the two have talked briefly about the idea, and Millennium might be interested in heading the entertainment component.

Still, the project has its challenges: Kuhn needs to close on the defunct Have a Nice Day Cafe property, and he has a meeting next week on that transaction.

People familiar with the deal say it is worth an estimated $4.5 million to Mark NeJame, the cafe property owner and an attorney. NeJame would not comment other than to say he's getting "top dollar" for the land and will have an unspecified percentage of ownership in Benchmark.

Kuhn, meanwhile, also must negotiate other land deals. The future of a municipal parking lot within the project area, for example, still is undetermined, as is the status of several well-known watering holes in that area.

Says the developer, "This can change 100 times over."

Copyright © 2004, American City Business Journals, Inc.
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