|By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando
Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 11, 2007 - --The Peabody Orlando's long-delayed, 750-room expansion is expected to break ground this fall, nearly doubling the International Drive hotel's capacity and helping to satisfy demand for more upscale rooms within walking distance of the Orange County Convention Center.
The 1.2 million-square-foot addition also will include 140,000 square feet of meeting space and an eight-story, 2,200-space parking garage. As part of the work, Peabody Hotel Group plans to build two pedestrian bridges connecting the hotel with the convention center's North-South and West wings.
"We are ready, and the drawings are ready," Peabody President Marty Belz said. "This is a market that is growing, and we are confident it will continue to grow."
Peabody plans to build a 32-story tower just north of the existing hotel, which has 890 rooms. The meeting space would be on the opposite side of the original 27-story hotel, close to the convention center's North-South hall. Belz said he expects the work to be completed in early 2010. The expansion would add 400 to 450 jobs, he said.
Memphis, Tenn.-based Peabody has talked of expanding its Orlando hotel for nearly a decade. In 2000, it said it was going to add 1,700 rooms in two phases, with a tentative opening date in 2003. But the slump in travel that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks derailed those plans. The subsequent real-estate boom, which inflated construction costs, further delayed an expansion.
Belz said the recent downturn in the real-estate market has slowed the pace of development and moderated the cost of building.
"We've heard from our sources that costs have come down anywhere from 5 [percent] to 12 percent," he said. The project will be bid in early September. Belz would not provide a cost estimate.
The expanded Peabody will open in an increasingly competitive market around the convention center.
Last year, the Rosen Shingle Creek opened with 1,500 rooms about a mile from the convention center. This spring, Hilton Hotels broke ground on a 1,400-room hotel that, like the Peabody, will be linked to the convention center with a skybridge.
Three other hotels -- one under construction, the other two simply announced -- could bring thousands more rooms to the area. The 470-room Village of Imagine is rising on Universal Boulevard, close to the convention center; and two condo hotels -- the 1,260-room InterContinental Resorts & Residences on International Drive and the 1,300-room Blue Rose on Universal -- both have scheduled openings in 2009.
Jessie Allen, the convention center's general manager, said a shortage of hotel rooms within an easy walk of the center has been a problem. He said the Peabody's announcement would be a boon to the center and its marketing efforts.
"We welcome it," Allen said. "Our major convention and trade shows will welcome it. The trade shows have been wanting more room, more convention-quality rooms, within walking distance for a long time, so this comes as wonderful news."
Christopher Boyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5723.
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