UPDATED: JANUARY 30, 2017 4:28 PM — Legendary pro wrestler Hulk Hogan is working with developer Wallack Holdings to reopen a closed storefront on International Drive as a shop and museum celebrating the athlete's career, with plans to debut roughly a month before Wrestlemania 33 hits Orlando on April 2.
The store will be a second location of Hogan's Beach Shop, the first of which has been open on Clearwater Beach near Tampa since October 2012. That store offers autographed Hogan memorabilia, clothing, toys, paid photo opportunities, and replica championship belts that mark highlights of the pro wrestler's career.
A Hulk Hogan-themed store would arguably be the first celebrity-anchored attraction on Orlando's I-Drive, in line with performers established on the Las Vegas Strip.
Hogan, who has more than 7.4 million followers between Twitter and Facebook, frequents his Clearwater store to take photos with fans and sign memorabilia, as do other former wrestling stars and Hogan's former manager, Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart.
Located at 7679 I-Drive northeast of the intersection with Sand Lake Road, the former 7-Eleven store has been closed since Joshua Wallack and investment partners bought the property in June 2014 for $3.7 million. He paid a premium for the 0.42-acre site to include it in an 11.45-acre assemblage for the future Skyplex entertainment complex.
Painting on the building began this past weekend by staff affiliated with 50 Legs in 50 Days, Inc., a Lithia-based charity that helps provide amputees with medical care and prostheses. The charity notes Hogan as a supporter on its website.
Staff on the painting crew and at the neighboring Perkins restaurant told GrowthSpotter the building was being prepared for a Hulk Hogan-themed store. Staff at the Clearwater Hogan's Beach Shop said Sunday a new Orlando store was expected to open in late February.
Wallack and Hogan's management did not respond to requests for comment about the new store.
"We're delighted about this news, and think a celebrity-level attraction adds a new element to the I-Drive resort area," said Maria Triscari, president of the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce.
The only other celebrity-focused attraction Triscari can recall from I-Drive history was an Elvis Presley museum housed on American Way, across from Wet 'n Wild, during the 1980s.
A Hogan attraction on I-Drive could draw more wrestling fans to the city for tourism when paired with a visit to the three-year-old WWE Performance Center in Orlando, where aspiring wrestlers train and perform in shows for the WWE's developmental division, NXT.
"I think this is a brilliant idea. There are so many wrestling events already (in Orlando), it's really a home base for WWE," said Raj Giri, president of Denver-based WrestlingInc.com, the largest independently owned wrestling news website.
"Rival promotion TNA also does their tapings of (Impact Wrestling) there at Universal Orlando," he continued. "For a family vacation this definitely adds to it, and is something I'd want to check out" on his first Orlando vacation coming up in April, for Wrestlemania.
Wallack has established via social media his friendship with actor Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan), tweeting photos of the two in April 2015 with reference to them discussing designs of the future Skyplex project. He also tweeted photos of Bollea and his family at Mango's Tropical Cafe on Dec. 31, 2015.
Bollea, 63, is considered the most recognized wrestling star of all time as Hulk Hogan and a pop culture icon of the 1980s and 1990s, following his 36-year career in professional wrestling.
He is a 12-time world champion title winner across different professional wrestling organizations, and has acted since 1982 in films and television. He currently lives in Clearwater.
The former 7-Eleven has been painted a combination of red and yellow over the past three days, Hogan's classic costume colors, while the interior 2,640 square feet had been cleaned and painted. A permit was issued by Orange County in late December to turn the electricity back on for the property as well.
The building could house Hogan's Beach Shop in the near-term for at least the first three quarters of this year, while infrastructure work is conducted to its rear for the Skyplex project. But that building will eventually be razed for Skyplex construction, along with the Perkins.
This may be temporary space for Hogan's Beach Shop to capitalize on Wrestlemania 33 attendance, with an eventual move to some of the 9,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space in Wallack's Hollywood Plaza parking garage, which lies a block to the southwest, next to his Mango's Tropical Cafe.
Site work began on the 10-story garage in October 2016, with retail shells potentially ready for tenants by the third quarter of this year.
Next door to Mango's is another vacant retail space Wallack owns, the former Florida Trends Gift Shop which closed in October. Managers of that store told GrowthSpotter in September that Wallack had Bollea in to tour the space.
However, Wallack said publicly in recent weeks that this space has been leased by a retail tenant, which he declined to name.