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Developer: Three hotels vying for flag in new downtown tower

The developer who built CitiTower in downtown Orlando says three hotel companies are vying for the flag in the new 33-story mixed-use tower.
The developer who built CitiTower in downtown Orlando says three hotel companies are vying for the flag in the new 33-story mixed-use tower. (DLR Group)

The developers who built CitiTower in downtown Orlando said they have three high-end hotels competing for the flag in their latest project, a 33-story tower overlooking Lake Eola.

Summa Development Group Principals Albert Socol and Marlene Weiss have promised to bring downtown Orlando’s first 5-star convention hotel to the central business district as part of the new mixed-use tower at 319 E. Church St. The plans call for 129 branded residences – a combination of 102 condominiums and 27 penthouse units over the hotel.

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The husband-and-wife developers and lead architect Steve Cavanaugh of DLR Group met via teleconference with the city’s Appearance Review Board Thursday to get the city’s initial feedback on the design.

During the meeting, Weiss explained the purpose for the solid band that separates the hotel from the luxury condos on the upper floors, which one ARB member likened to a waistband.

This close-up view shows the convention center, which is built on a podium base. The corner has outdoor terraces, and the ground level features recessed glass walls that create a shade canopy for pedestrians on the sidewalk.
This close-up view shows the convention center, which is built on a podium base. The corner has outdoor terraces, and the ground level features recessed glass walls that create a shade canopy for pedestrians on the sidewalk. (DLR Group)

”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.

The condominiums will share the same branding as the hotel and will be built with the same 5-star finishes, Socol said.

The as-yet unnamed project would rise on 1.5 acre site across from CitiTower, with construction scheduled to start in late 2021. The building would have its own dog park and pool on an amenity deck over the convention center. The submitted plans call for a 228-key luxury convention 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 with a pool and outdoor dining.

Cavanaugh described the inspiration and design process he engaged in with the clients to come up with a building that emphasized fluid curves, transparency and elegance. “We started to think of the project as almost like a sculptural piece on top of a pedestal – the pedestal being the podium of the project,” he said.

Classic works of architecture and sculpture served as early inspiration for the tower's bulbous design.
Classic works of architecture and sculpture served as early inspiration for the tower's bulbous design. (DLR Group)

The undulating curves of the building help optimize views of Lake Eola from the upper floors and allow for a balcony design that’s integrated elegantly into the architecture of the building. “We didn’t want the balconies to look like afterthoughts with dividing boards inside the building,” he said.

On the ground level the floor-to-ceiling glass walls create a vibrant pedestrian experience with seamless views of the hotel lobby, restaurants and convention center. The canopy extends over the sidewalk to protect the pedestrians and create a covered outdoor dining space. Weiss curated the art collection, which includes pieces by noted artists Israel Guevara, Jorge Blanco and Robert Catasus.

Weiss said Blanco, a Sarasota-based sculptor who created the “blue man walking blue dog” piece outside CitiTower, will create sculptures for the hotel lobby and a giant orange that will mark the entrance to the convention center. “It’s going to be like a giant segmented orange,” she told GrowthSpotter. “We’re going to elevate it on a pedestal – so the dogs don’t pee on it like the do at CitiTower. So we’re trying to correct our errors.”

This is a conceptual rendering of the hotel lounge space, which features a metal sculpture by Jorge Blanco.
This is a conceptual rendering of the hotel lounge space, which features a metal sculpture by Jorge Blanco. (DLR Group)

The hotel lobby will feature a digital art installation from Florida photographer Catasus utilizing 12 flat-screen TVs rotating 240 images of landscapes, artwork and museums from around the state.

“It’s a great product, and we don’t have this level of product in downtown, and certainly the convention space will be really fantastic,” ARB member Margaret Brock said. “I do appreciate, as well, how each streetscape on three elevations is activating a different set of users, and I like how that defines their point of entry in a different way.”

Socol, himself a registered architect, said he would personally oversee every detail of the new tower, which required a height clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration. “I’m going to be in control of this project, and it’s going to be done right,” he said. “The proof is across the street.”

The city’s Municipal Planning Board is scheduled to vote Sept. 15 on the master plan for the tower. Socol and Weiss said they hope to start construction in the Fourth Quarter of 2021. The building will take twice as long to complete as CitiTower.

This ground-level floorplan shows the three separate entrances and lobbies for the condos (red), hotel (blue) and convention center (purple). Two restaurants (pink) would occupy each of the rounded corners of the building.
This ground-level floorplan shows the three separate entrances and lobbies for the condos (red), hotel (blue) and convention center (purple). Two restaurants (pink) would occupy each of the rounded corners of the building. (DLR Group)

“Albert is the one making sure we can get this project on budget and on time, and right now we’re looking at 36 months for construction. It’s not easy,” Weiss said. “Everyone we’re talking to says it needs to have a special tower crane – two tower cranes. At CitiTower we had only one. At CitiTower it was 18 months of construction. Here we’ve got 36, so it’s no easy task at all.”

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The project will need a final ARB approval before building permits can be issues. Doug Metzger, the city’s chief planning officer, said the architectural package submitted for Thursday’s meeting far exceed a standard rendering often provided for courtesy review.

“One reason we’re so excited about this project is because of our experience with Mr. Socol and CitiTower,” Metzger said. “He is a developer who has delivered what he said he would deliver, so we really appreciate working with him. We’re looking forward to seeing this one move forward.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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