SC-based hotel group brings Lake Bryan site under contract, plans 'glamping' resort

An affiliate of South Carolina-based developer Auro Hotels has 12 acres under contract along the southern edge of Lake Bryan, with plans in the works for Orlando's first luxury "glamping" resort in the vicinity of Walt Disney World. 

Located on Lake Bryan Beach Boulevard directly east of Diamond Resorts' Grand Beach timeshare property, the site features 12 gross acres (7 acres netdevelopable), with 750 linear feet of Lake Bryan frontage and zoning that will allow a mix of tourism-related uses. 

It has easy access off S.R. 535, and lies 3.3 miles southeast of Disney Springs. The property has been marketed at $3.55 million in recent months by Nick Jones and Susan Morris of Resource Development Investment Properties, Inc., on behalf of owner 33511 LLC.  

Auro Hotels is a successor to JHM Hotels, which members of the Rama family began in 1973 with a single motel in Pomona, California. The JHM corporate name was retired in November as part of a succession plan, and Auro now owns and/or manages 60 hotels across the country, including seven in Greater Orlando. 

The company anticipates closing on the land in early June, and is preparing plans to file with Orange County for an estimated 150-unit glamping resort, said Roger Burgin, senior vice president for business development and acquisitions. 

"Our design is almost like taking a high-end tapestry hotel and bringing it outdoors," he told GrowthSpotter. "It will feel very much like a resort, eco-friendly and energy efficient. We have an exclusive deal with Airstream for a custom-made trailer. There will be tents as well, designed with a bathroom and spa inside like a high-end hotel room." 

Glamping is term used to describe the combination of glamour and camping, offering luxury amenities and resort-style services not usually associated with traditional camping.

But no such hospitality venture has been pursued yet in Orlando's tourism corridor near the major theme parks. Westgate's River Ranch Resort & Rodeo in Polk County features a limited number of glamping tents, and a Celebration couple announced plans in November to pursue a 56-acre glamping resort on U.S. 17-92 in Polk. 

Auro Hotels has one glamping site established thus far in Asheville, North Carolina, currently operating under placeholder name TD Camps. Along with Orlando, it's pursuing a project in Savannah and sites in 10 other markets, Burgin said.  

"The goal is to get to 10 new glamping resorts per year," he added. "We are hotel operators with experience with bigger flags, so we're taking that customer service know-how and mixing it with the best of the glamping experience." 

The developer plans to include multiple biking and walking trails on the property, and central buildings that would include a main office with outdoor dining area, a game room, swimming pool, full spa, and lake-based sports amenities, a rock climbing wall and zip line. 

Necessary fencing and other safety measures would be installed on the property to protect guests from local animals and insects, Burgin said. 

Per-key development cost should be roughly one-third that of a traditional hotel, he added. Total project cost is currently estimated at $12 million to $15 million, with a construction timeline of six to eight months and First Quarter 2019 delivery forecast. 

Auro will self-brand the property temporarily, but is negotiating with one of the large hotel chains it carries flags for about accepting the glamping properties under a boutique brand, said Burgin.

He anticipates a close to that agreement "in the next few months," which would open up marketing of the property beyond general third-party booking websites. 

Tri-3 Civil Engineering is leading design of the Orlando project plans along with Auro's in-house architect, and Miranda Fitzgerald of Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, P.A. will provide legal counsel on county permitting. 

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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