|By Mary Shanklin, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 16, 2012--In the heart of one the nation's biggest hotel markets sits a downtown where a new hotel hasn't opened in more than a decade. That's about to change.
Buoyed by the year-old Amway Center, a new performing-arts center set to open in 2014, and a commuter-rail line slated to start operating that same year, developers plan to open three new hotels in downtown Orlando during the next two years. At least one of the developers see the three projects as racing each other and questions whether the city center, with an office-vacancy rate of 18 percent, can support three more hotels.
Starwood Aloft has contracted with Baker Barrios Architects, which as offices in Orlando, to transform the former Orlando Utilities Commission headquarters building at Orange Avenue and North Lucerne Circle into a 118-room hotel. Rida Development, with Orlando-area offices, intends to expand its Central Florida portfolio with a 100- to 150-room hotel tied to the planned Sunrail station near the county courthouse. And Concord Eastridge, of Arlington, Va., is pushing to demolish law offices on Lake Eola to make way for a 155-room Cambria Suites.
Each of the projects is small compared with a resort hotel in the attractions area. All three will be aimed at business travelers, with room rates below those charged by the luxury Grand Bohemian Hotel, downtown's newest hotel, which opened on Orange at Jackson Street in 2001.
Starwood is furthest along and plans to open in the first quarter of 2013.
Laden with asbestos and antiquated support systems, the former OUC building will be gutted. Architects and designers hope they can maintain the wood finishes, restore the marble and granite, and refinish the terrazzo floors now hidden under carpeting.
The goal, said Baker Barrios principal Ray Acosta, is to try to preserve the eight-story, 1967 building so that it can qualify as a historic monument when it becomes a half-century old in a few years.
The design calls for a business hotel with few frills and small suites. Meeting space will be in the basement, which will be windowless but still similar to the banquet and meeting space in many business hotels, Acosta said.
One of the challenges of the site, which is very close to the performing-arts center, is the lack of space for parking. It includes no parking structures and will have access to only about 45 spaces in an adjacent lot, so it will depend largely on valet parking.
Earlier plans called for demolishing the structure, but building owners GDC Properties LLC, which purchased it for $2.8 million in December, determined it could work with the existing shell as part of an $18 million renovation and still achieve enough environmental efficiencies to compete for a top-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Lake Eola Cambria Suites
Concord Eastridge continues to refine its plans for a 155-room Cambria Suites on the southwest corner of Rosalind Avenue and Washington Street, overlooking Lake Eola. The company once planned to demolish the vacant, two-story law offices on the site in December, but Concord executives now say the building will be razed within the next 30 to 60 days.
The company has secured most, but not all, of its financing for the project, a spokesman said.
"It's taking longer to get things done, but we're still pushing forward," said Craig Starkey, the firm's vice president of development. "Things have been delayed but everything is good."
Concord envisions a $20 million facility catering to business guests during the week and then offering accommodations for lakeside weddings on the weekends.
Starkey said the hotel would compete in price with the Courtyard Marriott, which is on the west side of the city center by Interstate 4. The Cambria site is adjacent to the Metropolitan at Lake Eola, a residential condominium that was a hotel until it converted in 2004.
Starkey questioned whether downtown can suddenly absorb three new hotels and characterized the developers' timelines as "somewhat of a race" to see who can get their project started, built and opened first.
Rida Development intends to open a six- to eight-story hotel with 100 to 150 rooms on a 5-acre site near the main Lynx bus station. Developers hope for an opening in the summer of 2014, when the SunRail transit system is scheduled to begin operating from Debary through downtown to south Orlando.
Marc Reicher, the firm's senior vice president, said the project would draw business travelers and people staying in Orlando for legal proceedings at the nearby Orange County Courthouse. He expects it to have ground-floor retail, even though that type of space has struggled in the downtown core for years.
"We think, strategically, a midtown site has a place in the market," he said recently.
Rida, which owns the Hilton Orlando and the Omni Orlando Resort, plans to build the downtown Orlando hotel itself. The company has not yet partnered with a hotel-chain franchise to operate the property but is in the process of talking with some companies, Reicher said last week .
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