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Asian-style luxury ZENA Resort in early-stage planning for South I-Drive

An artist's rendering of the Zena Resort, in early-stage planning for redevelopment of the property as 12120 S. International Dr.
An artist's rendering of the Zena Resort, in early-stage planning for redevelopment of the property as 12120 S. International Dr. (Baker Barrios Architects)

While developer Northern Star Realty NY should move forward in the coming year with pre-construction of its 35-story Parkview Resort timeshare property on North International Drive, that may be just a warm-up act for what the company has planned on 24-plus acres along South I-Drive.

In slow-boil development since 2007, plans for the ZENA Resort could go active in the coming years if NSRNY's first crack at fractional ownership with Parkview draws the investment expected, company vice president Howard Cheng told GrowthSpotter.

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"This is truly the dream project for my mother (Show-Lain C. Cheng, company CEO), who immigrated from Taiwan and had always wanted to stay at a luxury resort like this but was never able to for most of her life," Cheng said.

"We're a numbers-focused family, and we've tried to understand why you can go to Asia and find incredible luxury hotels like this at an accessible price, but can't here. She wants to build a true Asian-style luxury resort in Orlando," he continued.

"It may be tough, luxury product in Orlando has not traditionally been successful. But we think a lot of that is due to overpricing," Cheng said. "I believe we can provide luxury at an acceptable price to the Orlando guest, especially with the fractional ownership aspect included now."

Plans for ZENA are still in early development, Cheng said, despite having been described publicly in 2010 by Show-Lain C. Cheng as a "$500 million resort project" that was moving along at that time.

Cheng declined to forecast a budget again for ZENA Resort. At such an early stage, NSRNY would now favor a large corporate investor in the hospitality or entertainment sectors that may want to contribute to its development, he said.

NSRNY is not actively looking for financing partners now while it focuses on lining up Chinese EB-5 investors and gaining City of Orlando approval on its Parkview Resort project.

But ZENA, Parkview and NSRNY's undeveloped commercial property in Kissimmee have all been pre-approved by EB-5 regional centers for investment, key to the developer's ability to line up investors during a relatively quick period of 12 to 18 months.

"We're not worried about the fundraising aspect, Chinese investors love major projects like this," Cheng said. "We're more worried about doing a project of this size, bigger than we've ever done, and managing a property this big."

Planned for within the 12000 block of S. International Drive, the property encompasses 24.88 acres across three parcels, directly southwest of Marriott Grande Pines Golf Club. It's currently home to Monumental Hotel Orlando, one of two NSRNY-owned hotels along I-Drive.

Monumental Hotel would be removed from the property in the coming years, if and when ZENA plans ever reach permitting phase with Orange County.

NSRNY bought the properties in 2006 and 2007 through a local affiliate at the peak of the pre-recession market for more than $23.35 million, according to county records.

Boasting 4.5 million square feet of floor space, 23 floors and 1,440 rooms, ZENA Resort would span three buildings that together form the shape of the Chinese character for "Wind," key to the Chinese philosophical system of harmony called Feng shui.

Feng shui will be integral to the property's design, with early-stage design consideration put into how wind would move around the buildings, Cheng said. The name ZENA is also rooted in "Zen," originally a Chinese form of Buddhism based on living in the moment.

The property is partially occupied by Lake Eve and falls under the Lake Eve II Planned Development, which in 2007 had a land use plan approved by Orange County for 1,440 timeshare units, 40,000 square feet of ancillary retail and 40,000 square feet of ancillary restaurant.

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ZENA Resort will aim for seven-star amenities, including restaurants, shopping, spas, sports facilities and meeting space. The developer will pursue Platinum LEED certification and feature a full-service concierge, day care service, resident medical care and pet hotel.

Two-bedroom suites with 1,400 square feet could be rented to vacationers at $150 to $200 a night, a luxury stay within nearly any traveler's reach, Cheng said. Nightly rates would be subsidized by the same timeshare model that NSRNY plans for Parkview Resort, which Cheng claims will be the most affordable of its kind in Orlando.

The company has 12 different designs for each two-bedroom format that are based on the four seasons, so timeshare owners can have a different experience with each visit.

See above for a slideshow of artist's renderings of the ZENA property and rooms. Orlando-based Baker Barrios has served as early-stage architect on the project.

bmoser@growthspotter.com or (407) 420-5685

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