When Ontario-based CTN Development first announced its plan to raze the 30-year-old Roomba Inn hotel on Kissimmee’s tourism corridor, the owners worked closely with the W192 Development Authority to come up with a redevelopment plan fitting the 7-acre site.
The authority awarded the owners a $50,000 catalyst grant in 2016 to create the vision plan for a new entertainment plaza, anchored by new hotels, 62,000 square feet of restaurants and shops. A sweeping pedestrian plaza with nightly light shows and live entertainment would link the property to the neighboring Old Town attraction. The hope was to expand the entertainment and dining options in an area that already draws millions of tourists.
But two years after the clearing the site, CTN has abandoned the concept, with the exception of a 142-room Hilton Home2Suites hotel it still plans to build at the rear of the property. CTN hired CBRE’s Bobby Palta and Alex Gordon to market the rest of the site for sale.
They secured a buyer, Palm Beach Gardens-based Blackfin Partners, to develop the rest of the site. Blackfin’s Seth Swisher and its engineer told Osceola County planners they have a very different vision for the property. They’re looking to subdivide it into four parcels, one of which would be the 2.35-acre hotel pad CTN is keeping.
Greg Roth, with Bohler Engineering, said the developer want to bring a traditional retail mix along the W192 frontage, likely to include Quick Service Restaurants and a fuel station/convenience store. The fourth lot, next to the Hilton, could be a second hotel pad or some other use.
Christina Morris, executive director of the W192 Development Authority, said she was disappointed that the project had been scaled back so dramatically. She noted that the authority had provided grant funding to CTN to help pay for demolishing the Roomba hotel.
“I have not touched base with them to find out why they’re splitting the parcels,” Morris said. “But honestly, to just do a gas station and more retail, based on the catalyst information I read, is underutilizing the property. It’s disappointing, because this project was slated for something greater.”
Morris said she hopes the CRA’s new form-based design guidelines, which were adopted in 2019, convince Blackfin to scrap the gas station idea. County Planner Jane Adams told Roth they could still build one, but the fuel pumps and parking would have to be at the rear of the building.
Old Town General Manager Thearon Scurlock said he’s glad the branded hotel is still in the plan, but he was hoping for more full-service restaurants and other types of retail that would complement his center. “There’s definitely retailers out there, it’s just about finding the right mix or the right person,” he said.
“The frontage on 192 is really valuable,” he said. “That’s how we were able to get a Shoney’s.”
Palta told GrowthSpotter he wasn’t familiar with the earlier development plans for the site, but he believes the Blackfin proposal is appropriate for the Celebration submarket. And given the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a wise move.
“I mean, before all this happened, that’s, that’s what our plan was. And now that this happened, it’s still our plan,” Palta said. “That’s that’s kind of what that market calls for. I think they probably had some big visions of big plans, but, you know, that market doesn’t function like Disney Springs. It has to fit in.”
David Gabbai, managing director for retail services at Colliers International, said that in light of the pandemic-caused recession, Blackfin’s plan to recruit convenience store and QSR is a smart move. He called the corona virus a wake-up call akin to the Sept. 11 attack or the 2009 housing bust. The country, and commercial real estate, will be permanently changed.
“The recovery from this pandemic is going to take some time to come out of it,” Gabbai said. “Those businesses that will come back more quickly are probably going to be the c-stores and fast-feeders.”
Longtime retail broker John Crossman agreed. His firm leads the retail leasing for Water Tower Shoppes in Celebration and the Magic Place, both are on W192 within a mile of this site. He said that build a large entertainment-focused retail complex would have been a risky investment. Going forward with more conventional, highway-focused retail is the safer approach.
“First up, there’s a lot of competition,” he said. “And secondly, the retail in that corridor ... the numbers have not been outstanding. It’s been OK. It’s been fair. But if you’re looking at all the places to expand and go into, it’s risky. It’s not been setting the world on fire the last couple of years.”