Private investors have a contract to buy one of Downtown Sanford's most historic buildings and want to convert it into a 120-room boutique hotel, returning it to the original use from its opening in 1925 as the Forrest Lake Hotel.
Located at 1095 E. 1st St. overlooking Lake Monroe, the building is known today as the New Tribes Mission building, in reference to the global missionary organization that has used it as a headquarters since 1977. The building last operated as a hotel in 1963.
New Tribes, which recently changed its name to Ethnos360, is selling the property because the organization in April moved into a modern six-story office building on the west side of downtown.
Sanford-based Key Performance Hospitality Management (KPHM) and affiliate Pelta RE Ventures LLC plan to invest as much as $12 million in the purchase and renovation of the property, executive vice president and CFO Troy Antonik told GrowthSpotter on Monday. The property was recently listed at $2.5 million by Millenia Partners on behalf of the seller.
"We intend to keep the exterior of the building like it is, but we'll need to gut the second and third floors," said Antonik. Those floors do not have central air conditioning.
Much of the first floor is currently offices. Antonik said the plans are to renovate the ballroom and restaurant spaces, and possibly add a spa.
"We're still working with some consultants to develop a plan and determine the extent of the renovations," he said.
With a 3,500-square-foot ballroom and scenic lakefront views, the property is ideal to host weddings and events, a market KPHM intends to pursue. The company also plans to work with executives from the Orlando Sanford International Airport to attract leisure travelers.
"We think we can capture some of the 3 million people per year traveling through the Sanford airport," Antonik said. "We'll have a significant marketing strategy."
KPHM has not secured a hotel flag at this point, he said. Ideally, the future owner would like to align the property with one of the majors' soft brands.
Soft brands are boutique properties that allow individual hotels to have their own name and image apart from a traditional hotel flag, while utilizing a global chain's reservations system, guest loyalty program and management expertise.
"We're not that far along in the process, but regardless of those discussions, we will operate it as an independendent hotel," said Antonik, adding that KPHM has 120 days to complete due diligence before closing on the property. A projected opening might occur in early 2019, he said.
First up will be securing the proper land uses from the City of Sanford.
Although the property was originally built as a hotel, the current land use designation is private school and college. The city's planning board and city commission are expected to approve the land use change for a hotel.
In fact, city commissioners recently discussed offering partial tax abatements for anyone that buys the property and retains its historic structure. Currently the property is exempt from taxes.
The city has also offered to assist any new property owners in securing grants and other funding sources if the building is renovated to historic standards.
Antonik said his company does plan to keep the historic nature of the building, though he's not sure whether KPHM will voluntarily place the building under the city's historic preservation codes or list the property on the National Register of Historic Places.
"The charm of the building is that it's an historic place, and we want to take advantage of that," Antonik said. "We're still determining what the best route will be for us to do that."
When it opened in 1925, the Forrest Lake Hotel was one of the finest hotels in the state. It cost $500,000 to build, had 158 rooms — each with a private bath, a luxury at the time — a 3,500-square-foot ballroom and two 2,500-square-foot dining rooms.
The building was designed by local architect Elton Motin as a Mediterranean-style resort. It was named for the man who built it, Forrest Lake, who served 11 terms as Sanford mayor and created Seminole County by carving out the north portion of Orange County during his two terms in the Florida House of Representatives.
Lake also served three years in the state prison in Raiford for financial crimes involving the intermingling of city and personal funds at the bank he founded, Seminole County Bank.
The city took over the hotel when Lake went to prison and changed the name to the Mayfair Inn. The New York Giants baseball organization bought the building in 1947 and used it as their base of Spring Training operations. The hotel was also popular with golfers who came to Sanford to play PGA tour events at the Mayfair Country Club.
The building stopped operating as a hotel in 1963, when the Bernarr MacFadden Foundation opened the Sanford Naval Academy School for Boys. The foundation declared bankruptcy and closed the school in 1976, at which point New Tribes Mission bought the building.