There’s a neighborhood on the east side of downtown where Orlando’s past and present meet. It’s a Main Street District with a business community that has thrived three years into its inception. The Milk District eclipses the fast-paced hustle of the downtown area with its distinctive suburban atmosphere, but make no mistake, the newest district in Downtown Orlando carries its own success. From the bars and boutiques of Robinson Street to restaurants on Bumby; the Milk District is a connected business environment that has attracted Orlando’s small businesses young and old.
“Being a business owner in this particular area is great because I feel very welcomed by the community of other business owners,” said Larry Hardin, owner of the Drunken Monkey on Bumby street. “It feels less like a competition and more of a helpful environment. It’s interesting to have customers so engaged with all the businesses in the area and how quickly people hear things from each other.”
Since joining Orlando Main Street in 2016, the Milk District has averaged a steady increase in reinvestment back into the community per quarter. As more businesses establish their roots, the district continues its expansion. With an average of three new businesses joining the district every quarter, business members have invested over $1 million into the district according to quarterly reports. These capital investments include construction, façade renovations and rehabilitations that are used to improve and maintain existing businesses in the Milk District.
“Having the Milk District brand plays a part in the recognition our shops get. When people are genuinely curious about the businesses that operate in this part of town it’s a very promising sign,” Hardin said. “I can’t say that it has been entirely because of the Main Street program that businesses do so well here but it certainly helps to have that awareness.”
In total, members of the Milk District have created 96 full-time positions and 92 part-time jobs. Its most sizeable impact can be seen in the volume of the businesses that are relocating to the district. Barton Malow, a local construction firm, is building a 200 square foot facility on the southeast quadrant of the Milk District that will accommodate for multiple new shops in the area.
“I think people in the neighborhood are definitely investing in the future and they want to be here. Our numbers are showing that,” said Milk District executive director Zac Alfson. “To see the transformation of this community has been astonishing. The sheer amount of local businesses that have opened in the last few years is a great sign to come. I know this quarter is going to be our largest. We have more than a couple big projects coming online.”
Alfson, who has played a role in expanding the Milk District brand since becoming executive director last November, lived in the area eight years ago and said he sees the district change almost every day. He plans on many more events and social mixers for local businesses in the near future.
The T.G. Lee Dairy Plant has stood on Robinson Street for more than 64 years. What was once one of Orlando’s leading business ventures now quietly stands in the background of a city skyline surrounded by more opportunity than ever before. For those in the area surrounding Bumby and Robinson, the dairy plant is a reminder of the deep history of business while the surrounding area is indicative of the ever-changing landscape of Downtown Orlando.
Bordered by a more quiet, quaint lifestyle of suburban homes and small shops, Downtown Orlando’s latest Main Street District is continuing to thrive and shows no signs of slowing down.