Whittall's vision for 76-acre I-Drive revamp needs a key 5.3-acre participant

Unicorp National Developments' master plan to redevelop a 76-acre block in International Drive's Entertainment District over the next decade could bring more than $1 billion in investment to the area, but one land owner lies between it all coming together.

As GrowthSpotter first reported on Nov. 17, Unicorp produced an early-stage plan to redevelop a 76-acre mega block east of I-Drive, between W. Sand Lake Road and Via Mercado, of which the company has full or partial ownership of 68 semi-contiguous acres.


The company owns a stake in the Wyndham Orlando Resort that fronts W. Sand Lake Road (27.18 acres), the I-Shops retail strip to its west that fronts I-Drive (10.42 acres), the Walgreens store on the Sand Lake Road corner (1.49 acres), the Kings Plaza retail center (8.9 acres), McFaddens restaurant (1.82 acres) and the I-Drive 360 complex (18.69 acres).

Sprinkled in between those are properties owned by other parties, like the Ripley's Museum owned by the Orlando-based Ripley's Entertainment affiliate of Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group (0.99 acres), Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theater owned by the Redmond family out of Chuluota, Fla. (5.37 acres), and a Fairfield Inn and Suites fronting Universal Boulevard owned by an affiliate of Avista Hotels (1.89 acres).


Whittall said Friday his master plan would work around the existing Ripley's Museum and Fairfield Inn properties, but purchase of the 5.37-acre Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theater parcel is integral to the redevelopment.

The Sleuth's parcel includes a 23,111-square-foot building next to Unicorp's Kings Plaza retail center that would be razed for vertical redevelopment. But two-thirds of its acreage is a strip of storm water retention area, which runs from the rear of Ripley's eastward to Universal Boulevard.

Broaching that storm water retention strip is key to connecting two halves of the 76-acre mega-block. County planning staff have previously told Whittall they'd like to see that done by extending Riley Park Way northward, which today is a small internal road within the I-Drive 360 property.

Whittall's public desire to redevelop the Sleuth's property has put its owners, the Redmond family, in a position of strength for potential sale negotiations. Weekend calls to the Redmonds were not returned in time for this story.

"That property owner's position can influence someone to overpay for it in this situation, regardless of what true value of that land is," said Thomas R. Jones, state-certified general appraiser with Florida Real Estate Advisors, Inc. "I don't know what (the Redmonds) are making with that dinner theater, but it's probably not the highest and best use of the land."

About 6.5 acres of the 76-acre mega-block currently account for the majority of that area's storm water retention, when counting the Sleuth's property strip, and a pond on the southeast corner of Unicorp's Wyndham Resort parcel.

That is 5 percent of the mega-block's total area, or $6.5 million in lost development potential, considering valuation of $1 million per acre in the heart of the tourism corridor.

Land that valuable doesn't need to be wasted as "back-of-house" storm water retention, and can be reconfigured as attractive bodies of water that are surrounded by walkable open space, Planning Manager Alberto Vargas said Friday, during a public evaluation of Unicorp's master plan at the monthly meeting of the I-Drive Vision Plan steering committee.


The storm water portion of Sleuth's property could also be filled in and developed over if equivalent storm water retention space was created by Unicorp in new ponds throughout the 76-acre block.

In county planning staff's critique of Whittall's master plan for the 76 acres, they took the liberty of boosting the scope of what Unicorp and other property owners in the mega-block could do there over the next decade.

Planners saw room for more new retail (430,000 square feet), cultural/entertainment (150,000 SF), and the additions of office space (75,000 SF) and residential (850 units) that weren't included by Unicorp before. Included with those are new restaurant space (175,000 SF), hotels (4,100 rooms) and convention space within hotels (600,000 SF).

Whittall noted that while he initially shied away from including residential towers in the master plan, discussion with staff has made him believe it could thrive there.

"As we drew this all up we've started to see opportunities for parcel redevelopment that we didn't realize before," he said. "I've already gotten calls about redevelopment on a few of these parcels."

Unicorp's hotel expansion potential for the properties is enormous. The Planned Development in which the 613-room Wyndham Resort sits provides entitlements for 2,000 rooms, while the I-Drive 360 property has entitlements for 1,000 rooms, which Whittall envisions for the surface parking directly behind the Orlando Eye.


Whittall's wish to also develop a 17-acre parcel east of Universal Boulevard, across the street from the Orlando Eye, with a large water feature, dining, hotels and a theater, stems from ongoing negotiations with land owner Colony Capital.

The developer said Friday he's met recently with the California-based real estate investment firm to discuss the 17-acre parcel, along with all 19 parcels totaling 474 acres nearby that Colony has said since October it wants to sell in one transaction.

"We're discussing that land, we've made an offer on (the 17-acre parcel), we'll just have to see what happens with it all," he said.

Whittall told GrowthSpotter on Oct. 29 he was interested in much of the Colony property, but the asking price of $150 million to $200 million for all 474 acres may be out of reach.

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