NY developer buys 5 acres south of OCCC, may apply dormant hotel plan

New York-based developer and property manager Empire Equities paid $6.4 million on Tuesday for 5 acres directly south of the Orange County Convention Center, and may shift its previously approved plan for a 365-key hotel there from a Universal Boulevard site it couldn't close on last year.

Based on the northwest corner of Westwood Boulevard and West Entrance Drive, the site is within walking distance of OCCC's West Concourse, and features exposure on the Beachline Expressway.

It's also adjacent to the property bought earlier this month by Epelboim Development Group for a new 259-key Tru by Hilton, another 6.54 acres retained by Skorman Development for future development, and a 20-acre site bought in late November 2016 by developer DCS Real Estate Holdings with plans for a convention-level hotel tower.

Empire previously earned Development Plan approval in November 2015 for a 23-story hotel project, planned at the time for a 5.34-acre site on Universal Boulevard that it had under contract from Orlando Equity Partners (OEP), an affiliate of Southwood Development Company in Atlanta. 

The developer was expected to bring Starwood's Le Meridien flag to the Orlando hotel market with that project, GrowthSpotter reported in March 2016. Starwood confirmed the flag agreement with Empire at the time, but could not be reached Thursday to reconfirm if the contract was still active.

The Universal Boulevard site that Empire couldn't close on later sold to Ripley Entertainment in late December 2016, part of 20.4 acres the "Believe it or Not!" operator purchased and has yet to announce plans for. 

No new DP application or refiling has been made for the Empire hotel project on Westwood Boulevard as of Thursday, according to Orange County planning staff. 

Dovi Lesches, partner at Empire Equities, declined to comment for this story.

The seller on Westwood Boulevard was an affiliate of Winter Park-based Avanti Properties Group, which banked the land after taking title in 2011 through foreclosure from Sham Maharaj. 

Stephen P. Taylor, senior vice president with Hunter Hotel Advisors, served as listing agent on the property for almost two years.

Empire's buyer affiliate sourced a $5.45 million mortgage directly from the seller to help close the deal.

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