For Joshua Wallack, developer and owner of Mango’s Tropical Cafe, the wait was excruciating. Like dozens of theater owners and venue operators, he had applied to a federal grant program to recapture lost revenues due to COVID-19.
In late July, the first round awards from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant came through - $57 million for Orlando venues like the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts, Amway Center all the way down to dinner theaters and piano bars. But July came and went, and Mango’s was nowhere on the list.
When he finally got the official word from the Small Business Administration in late August that Mango’s qualified for $16.375 million for its two locations, Wallack said he felt like a million-pound weight had been lifted off his back.
“I really felt that we were one of the last people in America to get our grant awards,” he said. “We truly were. To see all these other groups get it, and, you know, my dad and I used to talk about it, and we were like, did they lose our application? Did it fall between the seats?”
The SVOG funding — $10 million for the Miami club and $6.375 million for Orlando — was the lifeline Wallack needed to reopen the kitchen, rehire performers and start booking talent … planning in earnest for the future. But the coronavirus has forced him to reevaluate the future of his other International Drive project: Skyplex Entertainment Center.
The Wallack family has spent seven years assembling and rezoning 14 acres at the intersection of I-Drive and W. Sand Lake Road, and getting approvals for what would be the world’s tallest roller coaster, the Polercoaster, and four other thrill rides. He confirmed he even had a licensing deal with movie studio Lionsgate to open a Lionsgate Entertainment World, similar to the one that opened in China in 2019.
“We were right there, at the time, with Lionsgate,” he said. “And then, in February of 2020, when things kind of went south, I had a number of offers from Wall Street to finance the whole thing, and they pulled away because of what was going on within the sector,” he said. “Theme parks, even Walt Disney World shutting down. I mean, I never in my life would I have ever dreamed Walt Disney World would have to close. And this town was not designed for Walt Disney World to not be functioning at full tilt.”
Months later, when word of the deal leaked and was published by a number of theme park blogs, Lionsgate Orlando was in COVID purgatory. Wallack told GrowthSpotter he still has the license, should Wall Street decide the project is fundable. And maybe in another year, it will be. He still believes the project would be a huge success and “make a ton of money” if he built it. But after a year and half without progress, he has to take the blinders off and consider other uses.
“I mean, obviously, we worked for seven years on that project, and I’m emotionally very attached to it,” he said. “But I can’t succumb to emotionality in terms of business judgment. We have to look to what is financeable, what is doable, what is going to work in the long term. Because if we’re going to do hundreds and millions of dollars of work, we want it to be successful and we want it, we want it to be sustainable.”
With Epic Universe coming along, he believes it might make better financial sense to build a resort hotel on the site. “Who else has 14 acres on a hard corner like that? We probably have the best undeveloped site in the entire county right there. So we’re looking for the right opportunity there. But the important thing is that we own the land.”
Wallack said he might even issue a global request for proposals and invite the world’s most creative minds to come up with the best use of the property.
“Maybe some brilliant architects and visionaries can come can take a look at our site and say, what about this? And we all get we all gasp, and our jaws hit the floor,” he said. “So we’re open to looking at something like that, if we go on that route. But obviously, we’ve been dreaming about building that coaster for years and years and years. We just have to see if the market is there for that or if it’s there for something else. And if it’s there for something else, then, you know, Ob-la-di-bla-da.”
Life goes on, bra.