Jacksonville-based developer Murphco of Florida is planning two new hotels and a shopping center on Winter Haven's Cypress Gardens Parkway, right across from Legoland Florida.
The family-run business has filed construction plans with the city and Southwest Florida Water Management District for the project, which is set on a 12-acre parcel on Lake Dexter, just across the cove from the new Legoland Beach Resort.
"We are certainly anxious to get started down there," Murphco President Philip Murphey told GrowthSpotter on Friday.
The first hotel, a 111-room Marriott Courtyard, will be the company's first Marriott property and the first in Winter Haven.
"We really love Legoland, it's a top-notch operation," Murphey said. "Plus we're also close to the State Farm (Operations Center), and I know they book a lot of stays."
He said the $12 million hotel would be designed to appeal to both families and business travelers. It will be the first Courtyard to be built in the U.S. utilizing the company's new, sixth-generation prototype.
"We were waiting on this new prototype to be released," he said.
The Winter Haven project also represents a homecoming of sorts for Murphey, who attended Florida Southern College and used to enjoy water skiing on Lake Eloise.
The second hotel would be built in a later phase, and would likely carry another Marriott brand, Murphey said. The site plan also calls for an 8,000-square-foot retail strip center to be situated between the two hotels. It would be anchored by a 200-seat restaurant, and Murphco expects to sell that parcel once it's entitled.
Murphco purchased the property in November 2015 for $1.3 million, and held its first pre-application meeting with city planners the following month. The project has faced numerous site-related challenges that have delayed approvals.
"We've been in the hotel business over 40 years, and we have hotels in Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa," Murphey said. "This one has presented issues we've never dealt with before."
He said the seller had not disclosed the existence of a protected eagle nest on the property. That discovery necessitated a complete reworking of the site. Murphco moved the Courtyard project from the east side of the site to the west side, and redesigned it to reduce the building footprint.
"We hired an environmental consultant who specializes in eagles," Murphey said. The company will be required to join an eagle-protection society -- at a cost of $39,000 -- and to post a $50,000 bond "to make sure we don't scare the eagle off."
Amec Foster Wheeler is assisting Murphco with construction scheduling to avoid disrupting the eagle's mating schedule. If the bird leaves the nest within five years, the foundation can call in the bond, Murphco Vice President Josh Harrison said.
Harrison said city officials have been unwilling to reduce the parking requirements for the hotel. City code requires 1.25 parking spaces for each hotel room. Osceola County by comparison requires 1 space per room.
"Marriott has given us something to justify the 1:1 ratio, but they wouldn't go for it," Harrison said. The city has agreed to allow for shared parking between the Courtyard and the future restaurant/retail, but development of the second hotel will be delayed until they can find a solution.
Murphey and Harrison said they could always go higher -- making the second hotel six stories to further reduce the footprint. They also could look at some type of permeable parking structure to be built over one of the existing drainage ponds, or even filling in one of the two ponds on the property and making the other one deeper.
"We won't necessarily have to look into that until we're ready to do the second hotel," Harrison said. "Those are discussion for FDOT and SFWMD."