|The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 18, 2004 - The former Hyatt Orlando near Walt Disney World, which closed last September, may get new life under a New York-based owner.
Hotelier Morris Moinian said Thursday that he has a contract to buy the nearly 1,000-room hotel off Interstate 4 and U.S. Highway 192 and expects to close "in short order."
The hotel, which opened in the early 1970s, was the highest-profile victim of the economic downturn that claimed a handful of small motels in the Kissimmee area and north Orlando, and the Four Points Sheraton in downtown Orlando, during the past several years. The Four Points is being converted to condominiums.
Moinian declined to say how much he will pay for the property or how much he will pump into the renovations but said it would be restored "to its heyday" and will include a time-share section.
"It will be a high-end resort with state-of-the-art gym and spa," said Moinian, owner of the Wyndham Sugar Bay in St. Thomas and the upscale Dylan Hotel in New York, site of Nyla, a failed restaurant partly owned by Britney Spears.
He said the sprawling, two-story complex of scattered buildings in Osceola County will not be demolished for a new tower or high-rise, as some industry specialists had expected, but instead will be turned into a "village theme" and cater to leisure and corporate travelers. He said rooms would probably go for $200 a night or more, depending on the season.
Moinian said he has been scouting for hotel properties for some time, was in Orlando about six weeks ago and "decided 24 hours later to purchase the property. That's my style. I love Orlando, and I'm looking forward to it."
The 80-acre site is "prime," Moinian said, and if the deal closes as expected, work should begin within a month and rooms might be available by the end of the year.
Longtime Orlando-area hotel consultant Dave Theophilus said the former Hyatt Orlando property is "not quite prime, but close" and has potential for a hotel-revitalization project.
"It's purely a matter of economics" as to whether such a project would be feasible, Theophilus said. "It is a decent piece of property. It's literally at Disney's doorstep."
The hotel closed in part because it was outdated, with a 1970s era motel-style layout and exterior corridors, and could no longer compete with modern competition when the economy sputtered after 2001, Theophilus said.
The property was operating with bankruptcy-court protection in 2003 when lenders withdrew previously committed financing, forcing the owners to shutter the complex. More than 300 people lost their jobs but most were offered positions at other area hotels.
While Theophilus and other hotel industry specialists said Thursday that they were unfamiliar with the proposal by Moinian, they agreed that the reviving economy has made it more feasible for such a project today, although risks remain.
"We're still not back up to where we were," in average hotel occupancy, Theophilus said. "But I do believe we have bottomed and started back up. I know I've been in discussions with both buyers and sellers" in the Orlando hotel market, Theophilus said, "so there is some interest and movement."
Orlando-area hotel occupancy averaged 76 percent in April, the most recent month for statistics, up from 69 percent a year ago, according to Smith Travel Research, which tracks the U.S. lodging industry.
Average rates were essentially unchanged at about $93 a room.
--By Chris Cobbs and Jerry W. Jackson
-----To see more of The Orlando Sentinel -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.OrlandoSentinel.com. (c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. DIS, HOT,