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Owner re-brands budget hotels on North I-Drive as boutique properties

Highlighted in blue above, Micah Bass' two economy-level hotels on North I-Drive are receiving more than $2 million in renovations.
Highlighted in blue above, Micah Bass' two economy-level hotels on North I-Drive are receiving more than $2 million in renovations. (Orange County Property Appraiser)

Two International Drive budget hotels north of Carrier Drive are in the midst of nearly $2.5 million in renovations by their owner, who's transitioning the properties from known flags to boutique themes, with one refocused as an LGBT-friendly hotel.

The properties, a Travelodge at 7200 I-Drive and a former Howard Johnson's a few hundred feet north at 6603 I-Drive, have been owned by LLC affiliates of Micah Bass since August 2011 and June 2010, respectively.

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Bass took over management of both properties on May 1 from Jay and Shamir Patel's Capital Hospitality Management, by way of his own property management group Jam Management, after what he described as a multi-year litigation with Capital over their management and record-keeping practices.

With the Travelodge contract expiring this month, Bass came up with The Heart of I Drive as that property's new name, an idea sprung from the common denominator he and staff would use to describe the hotel's location to guests, to him its greatest attribute.

"Being an international traveler my whole life and now a hotel owner, I've found that brand standards and restrictions aren't fit for a smaller boutique hotel like this of 120 rooms," Bass said. "I want to give each room a personality, and now I can make this hotel more fun."

Bass will have bicycles, iPads and computers available for rent, amenities not permitted by past Travelodge standards, he said. Two Apple computers have been placed in a revamped business center, and the hotel has a 3,600-square-foot retail space available for lease near the front lobby, for which Bass wants to draw a limited-service food operator.

Bass is investing roughly $500,000 in renovations at the former Travelodge property, which include new computers, software, and flooring in parts. A new sign for the property should arrive within the next week, he says.

A unique amenity Bass plans to add in front of The Heart of I Drive hotel is a large heart shape with two holes for people to place their faces and take photos encouraged for Instagram. It will be placed strategically to allow photos facing south to capture the Orlando Eye wheel in the background, and those facing north to include the bungee attraction at Magical Midway.

Bass expects revenue growth of 25 percent at the property after the flag transition and renovations, along with another 10 percent gain in profits by not having to pay royalties. The hotel is currently showing rooms available for $51 per night for two adults, Sept. 21-27.

The second property, a former Howard Johnson's, transitioned in June to The M @ 6603 I-Drive. Bass didn't set out for the 176-key hotel to pursue an LGBT-friendly niche, but its rebranding in late June coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for states to allow same-sex marriage.

Bass responded to the news with a "Honeymooners are welcome" message out front, and passersby and staff applauded, he said. A bit of research showed there wasn't another I-Drive property attempting to cater to the LGBT traveler.

The hotel welcomes all, but its staff has a more refined knowledge of LGBT interests for its concierge service, Bass said, and has more thorough diversity training than typical hospitality teams.

Bass has also acquired a liquor license within the past week and is pursuing a permit to build a fence around The M's pool area. The hotel has an existing restaurant space with allowed occupancy of 196, which he plans to renovate into I-Drive's first LGBT-focused nightclub.

Renovations at The M will approach $2 million, Bass said, including lobby refurbishment, a new sign, landscape and exterior work, and 50 percent of the rooms updated thus far with new carpeting, artwork and European minimalist-design furniture.

Bass expects growth of 20 percent in Revenue Per Available Room, and another 10 percent profit by avoiding flag license fees. Currently, rates at The M start at $69 for two adults on the hotel's website for Sept. 21-27.

Bass is paying for redevelopment of both properties with his own capital. Jam Management has conducted all the contracting and renovation work internally for both properties, he said.

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Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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