UPDATED: JULY 21, 2016 02:20 PM — A Qatar-based construction firm has established its first U.S. office in Orlando and is investing big in downtown St. Cloud.
Realtor Margus Mahar, a sales associate with JC Penny Realty, said the hotel renovation is the first of many investments ADMC is planning in St. Cloud. The 38-room hotel was built in 1910. CEO Albert Leka, who was born in Albania and raised in Greece, is considering converting the second and third floors into apartments.
"He really has the vision," Mahar told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday. "We're going to turn St. Cloud into a mini-Winter Garden."
ADMC Vice President Irene Tsatiris said the company expects to invest up to $1 million in the renovation and will end up with 18 residential units on the upper floors. The extensive renovation will include new electrical, plumbing, HVAC and a new black roof. "The metal roof - it's what they did in the past, but it's not going to work with the look we want," she said.
ADMC is widely known for massive building and infrastructure projects in Europe and the Middle East, including stadiums, train stations and high-rises. For Leka, the hotel renovation is a return to his roots, Tsatiris said.
"He builds things like nobody does," she said. "He has a particular way of doing things. And nothing is chintzy. He has been doing construction since he was 15 years old."
She said Leka will introduce his own European-style coffee bistro, Luminous, to the hotel's ground floor and is recruiting a restaurant user for the former ballroom.
ADMC has a second downtown property under contract, but Mahar could not disclose the details of the site.
"St. Cloud has a beautiful downtown," Mahar said. "It's a nice quaint city with a lot of (1950s and 1960s) homes. It reminds me of College Park, where I used to live. It has easy access to beach – it's got a lot of potential. It also has a progressive city government who understands and sees the opportunities the same way we do."
Mahar said he and Leka are in early discussions with city officials to build a parking garage with more retail and reserved spaces for residents near the hotel. "They're going to need parking for the Centennial Park, and we're going to develop the parking for them," he said. "Plus it gives us an opportunity for more retail."
City Manager Joe Helfenberger this week outlined plans to expand Centennial Park, first reported last September by GrowthSpotter. The city has hired planning firm Tindale Oliver to come up with three design plans for the downtown park, which would be expanded to include the entire city block and could include a splash park.
Helfenberger said he is in early discussions with the VFW Post 3227, which is located in the historic train depot, and other business owners on the block about either acquiring their property or doing a land swap with the city.
"We would consider offering land over by the city clinic that has lake frontage," Helfenberger said. "Right now, I'm in the process of getting appraisals. Then we can start negotiations."
The plan would be to convert the former train depot, which is directly across from City Hall, into a welcome center.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include an architectural rendering and comments from ADMC Vice President Irene Tsatiris.