Brazilian owners of International Drive's Avanti Resort have targeted August for groundbreaking of their new 21-story UNIQ Hotel, and are exploring financing options and general contractors for the project, the company's spokesman in Orlando said Monday.
It's an optimistic time line, requiring an aggressive pace and flawless review in the coming months through Orange County approvals for PD rezoning, a Development Plan and building permits.
That process starts in April, and they may pull it off thanks to more than four months of cooperation with county planners to align the project with the I-Drive Vision Plan, well before the form-based zoning code takes effect later this year.
Hotel owner IDrive Orlando Hotel, LLC, an affiliate of the diverse Brazilian business group Brasif, announced in December it was planning a new adult-oriented boutique hotel in the heart of I-Drive.
"We originally thought we'd break ground on this in May," said Marco A. Manzie, founder of Paramount Hospitality, Brasif's owner-representative and property manager in Orlando, and coordinator for the expansion. "But we're not frustrated with the process, we see there are a lot of mechanics working behind the scenes on how the county will deal with this from a code and traffic impact standpoint. We'll be the first to bring the new vision for I-Drive to reality."
A seven-subdistrict future for the tourism corridor faces initial review by County Commissioners on Tuesday. While a battle over height limits for I-Drive attractions has grabbed the most attention, the plan's vision is much bigger than that.
The 652-key Avanti Hotel, which lies at the corner of International Drive and Austrian Court on 10.19 acres, would have 3.05 acres on the parcel's southern end dedicated to the new UNIQ, a a 21-story hotel tower (352 proposed rooms), along with a five-story parking garage.
The first step comes in April, when the Development Review Committee will recommend on rezoning from C-2 to Planned Development to allow for the additional hotel rooms.
A height of 250 feet is being sought, with the Convention Center Overlay District standard requested so there's no height restriction on the property. The FAA has already approved a 250-foot height clearance.
That height restriction is the crux of the PD rezoning effort, said Olan Hill, chief planner with Orange County. PD zoning can take more than 100 days longer to approve than a conventionally zoned project, but offers the flexibility needed for this project to pass through a limbo period before the Vision Plan code takes hold.
"In order to do a hotel building of this size they'd normally have to go through the Board of Zoning Adjustments to get a ton of variances to move forward under their existing zoning," Hill said. "We told them that would be problematic, because (BZA) doesn't typically see projects of this size and complexity. The number of variances needed would make a quick approval time line unlikely."
If DRC recommends PD rezoning for approval in April, Brasif's request would face the Planning & Zoning Commission in May, and Board of County Commissioners in late June or early July.
That's a best-case scenario for an approval time line, but because the new development is fully consistent with the future I-Drive Vision Plan code, staff can justify the waiver requests.
With PD zoning delivering entitlements and performance standards for the hotel tower, a Development Plan for the building would face approval. Brasif could submit that DP as soon as the PD gets out of DRC in April, taking the risk that rezoning isn't denied in June/July.
Building permit applications are where the road bumps may appear. Orange County's Building Division has historically waited for a project DP to be approved before considering permits.
Brasif declined to confirm a projected investment in the new hotel tower and parking garage. The company is exploring financing, but the project isn't contingent on finding a lender, Manzie said.
The development group wants to have a unique first-floor restaurant and rooftop bar with dayclub pool, and is open to partnerships with different brands and celebrity chefs for the two spaces, Manzie said.