The Canadian developer who announced plans last year for North America’s first luxury, 5-star, Muslim-friendly resort near Disney has spent much of 2020 refining the project and prepping to start construction by summer of 2021.
The Everest Group of Companies paid $34 million in October 2019 for the 217-acre tract at the southwest corner of U.S. 192 and the Western Beltway/S.R. 429. CEO Zafir Rashid told GrowthSpotter the firm has rebranded the project as Everest Place, a master-planned community that will combine a retail town center, a medical center, offices, permanent housing and resort components.
Rashid said the company has agreements in place with three hotel flags to build separate and unique resorts with a combined total of 1,800 standard hotel rooms and condo hotel units on the property — all slated to open in 2023.
“We anticipate that by next year, definitely by the tail end of 2021, I think things will start coming back to normal as most people will have been vaccinated by then,” Rashid said. “We’ve already seen that in Orlando. People are traveling, although it’s not the same as last year, people are just itching to get back to normality, and I think Orlando will bounce back in a big way on the hospitality side.”
Those will include a 5-star conference center hotel, a kids themed resort and water park, and the Grand Medina “conservative lifestyle” resort and spa. “They’re all three different noncompeting brands — they sort of complement each other, versus competing — so we expect to start all three at the same time, and complete them around the same time.”
The largest would be a luxury full-service conference hotel with 500 rooms, 23 villas, restaurants and bars, and a ballroom that could accommodate 2,000 guests. “It’s an ultra luxury brand,” Rashid said. “That’s all I can tell you, because we have an NDA, but it’s a well-established, 5-star luxury brand.”
The development would be phased, with the first phase consisting of 200 hotel rooms and 200 condo-hotel units, intended for longer stays. The condo units would share the same hotel branding, but will be outfitted with full kitchens, multiple bedrooms.
The kids themed resort is next. Rashid said the firm is in negotiations with a branding partner for the family-friendly resort. The first phase would consist of a 200-room hotel with its own restaurant, water park and amenities, plus 100 condo-hotel units. It would be approved for future expansions of an additional 100 hotel rooms and 100 condos.
The Grand Medina Resort & Spa would be a 4-star hotel with 165 rooms and 100 condo units in phase 1. Described as the first of its kind in North America, this resort would include a women’s club with spa services, private pools, a gym, yoga studio and cafe.
“That’s the conservative lifestyle hotel,” Rashid said. “We’ve actually partnered up with a brand out of the Middle East and Dubai. So it’s going to be co-branded as Grand Medina and this particular brand. That one is very far along, and we’re excited about the partnership.”
The Grand Medina will be the only resort on the community that’s an alcohol-free zone.
A massive new lake would stretch almost the entire length of the property, separating the development from the wetland areas on the western half of the property. The lake would provide enhanced stormwater treatment and retention, and it also would have water taxi stops at each resort and apartment complex to provide circulation within the community and to the shopping district.
“Our goal is to you know sort of create a nice waterfront development which has the ability to have electric boats that can travel up and down from our town center village to each individual hotel, and creating a boardwalk system as well that sort of networks through the whole development,” Rashid said.
In the commercial section, Everest has created three retail lots fronting on U.S. 192 where it plans to create a shopping village with up to 100,000 square feet of retail uses (including a grocery store and national chain drugstore) and restaurants. The plans also call for office space, a 30,000-square-foot medical center complete with surgery center, urgent care, diagnostics and labs.
“For our development, we’ve actually seen a lot of interest with retailers and groups wanting to be a part of it,” Rashid said. “That’s why it’s important to create more permanent residences within the project.”
To support the retail, Everest is trading off some of the hotel entitlements to expand the residential components in the district. Two mixed-use residential pods would include sister Class A apartment complexes with up to 750 units and structured parking. The initial concept calls for 5-story buildings with ground-floor retail.
“We have this downtown sort of feel to it, where you have apartments and you have retail and commercial,” he said. “That’s the sort of atmosphere that we’re creating there.”
The first 350 apartments would be built in phase 1 in the northeast corner of the property. The Everest Place master plan also calls for a gated townhouse community at the southeast corner of the property. It’s all part of a strategy to bring a diverse mix of uses to the community to make it more sustainable, especially during economic downturns.
“We don’t want to be just sitting on the product and saying okay well let’s wait till a certain amount absorption happens and then continue to build the same product,” Rashid said. “We thought multifamily is obviously very hot right now, and there’s strong demand in the multifamily space. So, it was just natural for us to look at it as a low hanging fruit and and build something that’s very successful.”
The developer has been working with Osceola County since the summer on the creation of a community development district that would finance and manage the infrastructure improvements needed to bring the project to fruition. The Board of County Commissioners in November approved the ordinance creating the CDD and interlocal agreement with the county sets out a vision for the initial framework of the district.
The agreement calls for a 100-foot-wide boulevard that would create a multi-modal corridor along the length of the property from U.S. 192 to Funie Steed Road. Fully landscaped entry signs would be constructed at the north and south entrances to the district and along the corridor to “create a sense of arrival” and unified theme.
The developer applied this week for a minor Comprehensive Plan Amendment to incorporate its preferred alignment of the boulevard, which is considered a framework street by the county.
Everest and its financial consultant, PFM (formerly Fishkind & Associates), estimate it will cost just over $16 million to build the premium roads, stormwater system, trails and landscape for the master-planned community. Rashid said the CDD board of supervisors has already held its initial meeting and has selected bond counsel and underwriters. He estimates it will take eight months for horizontal construction and another 18-24 months for vertical construction of phase 1.
Everest is working with David Portwood, president of Davenport Consulting Group, and Kimley-Horn and Terracon for the engineering and geotechnical work. Spanish firm, Arquiestudio, is collaborating on the resort design and theming.