With the planned opening of a newly renovated Doubletree hotel in 2017, Kissimmee's W192 corridor will finally have the kind of upscale branded hotel that has long eluded its tourist district.
After decades of watching the area decline, investors and developers are getting bullish on W192.
"We think that corridor is the future of the greater Orlando market," Hudson Holdings Principal Andrew Greenbaum told GrowthSpotter. "We feel that it's going to be a perfect location for those who aren't looking to stay on Disney property and aren't convention-goers looking to be on I-Drive."
Hudson Holdings paid $6 million last July for the 31-year-old HomeSuiteHome hotel, a former Best Western. The Delray Beach firm is planning a $36 million renovation to convert the 401-room hotel into a 186-room all-suite hotel with an enclosed atrium, 7,000-square-foot ballroom and high-end retail.
Greenbaum said he has closely followed progress of the future Magic Place, slated to be the region's first luxury branded resort. Sports car design firm Pininfarina has signed on as master designer for the 87-acre mixed-use development.
"It's the beginning of the upscaling of the corridor," he said. "They are the ones who, I think, are also sinking significant assets and resources into redeveloping to an upper-end corridor, and we're with them."
Plans for the Doubletree have been filed with Osceola County, and demolition work will start in the spring. "The front anteroom is going to be demolished. Everything else will be gutted and renovated," Greenbaum said.
Kissimmee-based Carter Hospitality Group also went the conversion route last year, buying, renovating and rebranding two hotels on W U.S. 192 with a flag new to the local market.
The former Kissimmee Maingate at 7300 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway reopened in December under the Red Lion Hotels flag - the brand's first east coast franchise.
Carter's second acquisition, the 200-plus room America's Best Inn Main Gate East at 5150 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway and North Poinciana Boulevard, is in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation, and should reopen in November of this year as a 416-room Red Lion Hotel.
Based in Spokane, Washington, Red Lion is in the midst of a national expansion. "The nice thing is anyone from the West Coast of the U.S. knows what they're getting; a family-friendly hotel known for good rates," said David Buchheit, executive director for the W192 Development Authority. He said both Red Lion and Hilton see the corridor's potential.
"I think they see the revitalization that's coming," he said. "They see the effort the county is putting in."
The brand conversions are positive signs, but an even stronger indicator is the fact that construction has started on the $500 million Margaritaville Resort.
"When I see this, it says to me that this area is experiencing a revival," said Paul Sexton, vice president of HREC Investment Advisors, a national brokerage offering consulting, development and asset management services to the hotel industry. "Capital is coming into the market. It's real."
Sexton said even a project like the new Fairfield Inn & Suites at 6073 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway is a big deal. Scheduled to open in May, the Fairfield will be the first Marriott-branded hotel on W192 - and it features the company's new, contemporary design prototype.
"When was the last time a hotel was built to a highly branded prototype? That's what's really exciting," he said. "People are looking for those brands."
"I wish we could see more of that - the bulldozers coming out," Sexton said.
For every new hotel or redevelopment project, the corridor has dozens of obsolete properties that continue to drag down values. But where some people see blight, Sexton said he sees opportunity. The one thing W192 has going for it that other submarkets -- like International Drive -- lack is a plethora of old product on large parcels of land.
"Look at how many different parcels Josh Wallack had to piece together on I-Drive for Skyplex," he said. "Here, you don't have to do assemblages."
When he sees fencing and "no trespass" signs around a hotel like the Orlando Sun Resort at the northeast quadrant of W192 and Interstate 4, it's cause for celebration. Built in 1974, the sprawling two-story motel sits on 77 acres right across from Celebration.
"It's encouraging anytime you have a horrible hotel that's closed down," he said. "To me, that's the prime site in the corridor. If something were to happen there, you know the area will have reached critical mass."
Another location primed for redevelopment is the area around the State Road 429 interchange. The segment is attracting new Class-A multi-family, including a new $50 million apartment community planned by Atlanta-based Candler Development.
Principal Bill Candler told GrowthSpotter he also has a deal in the works for a branded hotel on the property. He predicts that segment will develop much like Universal Boulevard has.
"Our product and what we're going to do will really stand out visually," he said. "It's going to be very similar to what's happened around SeaWorld."
He called Margaritaville Resort a game-changer for W192.
"That corridor is so underserved and underdeveloped," he said. "Look around my site and what do you see? An old McDonalds, an old motel, a flea market, that old resort trailer thing. Every square inch of that old product is going to go."