It looks like downtown Orlando will be getting its luxury hotel and convention center, as promised by developers Albert Socol and Marlene Weiss.
The husband-wife heads of Summa Development Group have filed updated renderings with the city naming JW Marriott as the anchor for their 33-story mixed-use tower at the corner of Church and Pine streets. They are seeking a major certificate of appearance approval for the project, which includes the luxury hotel, a convention center and JW Marriott branded residences — a combination of 102 condominiums and 27 penthouse units over the hotel.
The building design package has been renamed JW Marriott Hotel/Convention Center & Residences, but it closely resembles the original concept presented by lead architect Steve Cavanaugh from DLR Group during the project’s Appearance Review Board courtesy review two years ago. During that presentation, Weiss explained that the banding on the tower between the hotel and residences would be for the hotel signage.
“The band that’s in between the hotel and condo space intentionally is left blank for the famous name of the hotel we’re going to get, which right now we have three fighting for,” Weiss said at the time.
This would be the third JW Marriott flag in Orlando. The company operates two resort properties near Disney: the JW Marriott Orlando Grand Lakes and JW Marriott Orlando Bonnett Creek. Both are considered 4-star hotels.
The skyscraper at 319 E Church St. would rise across from CitiTower, which also was developed by SDG. The developers received master plan approval for their second tower in 2020, but the project was put on hold for a year while they negotiated with the Orlando Museum of Art to host a downtown branch of the museum with 30,000 square feet of new gallery space highlighted by the world’s first rooftop garden featuring works by world-famous artist Dale Chihuly.
The project was to be funded through an undisclosed gift from noted Winter Park philanthropist Alan Ginsburg, a former member of the OMA Board of Trustees. Socol and Weiss even brought in a second architecture team from Pelli Clarke Pelli specifically to design the museum space. That project fizzled earlier this year when the museum board abruptly backed out of the deal, claiming the decision was based on bad timing. The building wouldn’t have been completed in time for the museum’s 100th anniversary in 2025.
The project had been spearheaded by former museum director Aaron De Groft, who was fired in July amid the scandal over the authenticity of paintings by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and an FBI raid on the museum in June.
But while the museum branch is gone, the brightly colored rooftop garden remains in the plan as an outdoor event space for the hotel on the roof the 9-story podium of the building, a space that was largely unused in the original building design. De Groft had envisioned the space as a lush “urban oasis” and tourist attraction in the heart of the downtown cultural district. It would be designed to collect rainwater and capture sunlight so it can be lit at night using solar energy, providing breathtaking views for the hotel guests and residents.
Marc McMurrin, President & CEO of the Ginsburg Family Foundation, said that Ginsburg has a personal relationship with Dale Chihuly. Now that he and the foundation are no longer involved, it’s unlikely the garden would include pieces from the artist. “The connection with Chihuly was solely ours,” he said. “They didn’t have a relationship with him.”
The current renderings take inspiration from the concepts prepared by Pelli Clarke Pelli for the museum. They show a blue striped glass conservatory building surrounded by tropical plants and glass sculptures. Under the previous plan, the garden would have been accessible only to museum guests. It’s unclear if this version will have restricted access.
Both SDG and DLR Group declined to comment for this story.
The approved plans call for a 228-key hotel with more than 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space on three floors and a Sky Club on the 33rd floor. The pool and spa would be on level 10.
Paul Sexton, vice president of HREC Advisors, said the downtown hotel market is still a “bit undiscovered” country, and it’s overdue for a luxury brand that caters to groups and conventions.
The JW Marriott tower would be one of a handful of projects on the drawing boards now that could add hotel room inventory to the Central Business District.
Monarch Tower, designed by Baker Barrios, has entitlements to allow for up to 380 rental apartments, along with a full-service lifestyle hotel with up to 200 rooms to accommodate a national brand or 130 rooms to accommodate a hotel boutique concept. Plans include a restaurant on the main floor and the roof level. Additional features include meeting and banquet space, a spa and at least one pool. Massachusetts-based Northland Investment Corporation acquired the project with entitlements in 2021.
In Creative Village, Ustler Development and The Allen Morris Company announced plans in 2021 to add a Moxy-branded hotel as part of the project’s next phase.
Other luxury brands are headed to Orlando’s tourism corridor, including the new Conrad Hotel at Evermore Resort Orlando and a Kempinski hotel at Everest Place. New York-based Development Ventures Group (DEVEN), which co-developed Orlando’s Bonnett Creek Resort, announced plans in 2021 that it was teaming up with hospitality group Accor to bring a new Fairmont Hotels & Resorts branded hotel here.