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A site near SeaWorld once imagined for hotel use is being reconsidered for multifamily development

A vacant site near SeaWorld in Orlando’s tourism corridor is being prepped for possible multifamily development and affordable housing in order to increase its marketability.

Commercial broker Richard Kurban, with RKommercial Group, just submitted a pre-application in Orange County, seeking the feasibility to build up to 172 units on 5.37 acres of uplands on the 11000 block of International Drive, south of the intersection with Central Florida Parkway.

The property is part of a larger assemblage owned by Treasure Cove Vacation Club LLC, led by Gary Houghton and father George Houghton, founder and chairman of the family holding company GH Group based out of England.

In total, the LLC controls almost 20 acres across from the Discovery Cove theme park. which is owned by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Roughly 12 acres of the property are made up of mitigated wetlands, meaning any new development that comes in will have wetlands already permitted.

For over a decade, the property owners have tried to pass off different development scenarios on the site.

The Houghtons acquired the two parcels between 2006 and 2007 with plans for an assisted living facility and later opted to sit on the asset through the recession.

In 2013, they engaged Amr Gawad of True Engineering and Consulting to design conceptual hotel plans with the goal of finding a joint venture partner. The following year, they earned Orange County entitlements for up to 500 hotel keys or 250 lock-out timeshare units, 60,000 square feet of retail, and a height of up to 11 stories.

According to a previous article by GrowthSpotter, the family spent millions in the acquisition, design and engineering, and tax maintenance on the property. In 2015, the Houghtons and Miami investor Charles Newman, a former JV partner, tried to develop an 11-story condominium hotel through the EB-5 program.

The project, called Treasure Cove Hotel & Plaza, never took off. The site remains vacant and sits across the Dolphin’s Plaza shopping center along International Drive.

Another pe-application submitted last year in Orange County shows the property owners were close to sealing a deal with Darren Pellegrin, a former Tavistock Development Company manager, who pursued possibly building an 8-story, 387-room hotel and a 6,000-square-foot restaurant pad on the property.

The most recent application, submitted by land planner Doug Kelly with England-Thims & Miller Inc., states the team would like to discuss a potential Future Land Use change from Activity Center Mixed Use (ACMU) to Activity Center Residential (ACR) “to maximize multifamily residential development with an affordable housing bonus option.”

At 30 dwelling units per acre, a developer would be able to build 172 multifamily residential units, considering no retail goes up and a secondary access lane to Central Florida Parkway is provided, according to the application.

Nearby the property along International Drive, Park Square Homes is in the middle of building a large short-term rental community on the former Marriott Grande Pines golf course, just south of the SeaWorld attractions.

During the pandemic, lending for new U.S. hotel development lagged behind loans for transactions and refinancing deals, according to an article by CoStar. The report quotes a managing director at HVS Capital Markets who says a wave of high-priced hotel transactions is signaling a return to a healthier market that can support more construction financing in the future.

Meanwhile, construction financing for multifamily development has proven to be relatively resilient since the onset of the health crisis.

According to a Yardi Matrix Orlando multifamily semi-annual report, developers had 21,331 apartments under construction and 3,924 delivered this year as of May. During the same interval in 2020, 2,452 apartments were delivered in the Orlando Metropolitan Area.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at or (407) 491-3357, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.