Local developer The BlackMINE Group will invest up to $100 million of its own equity in the iSquare Mall + Hotel planned for North International Drive, with another $250 million sourced from private investors this year by a Manhattan-based financial advisory group, chairman and CEO Abdul Mathin told GrowthSpotter.
Planned for a 5.6-acre parcel at the southeast corner of I-Drive and Kirkman Road (known as International Shoppes), Mathin bought the site in 2007 for $12.5 million. He had an initial vision for vertical infill development geared toward the luxury traveler, and a wealth of patience for the economy to recover.
"I knew that would be a bulls-eye for Orlando tourism, right across from Universal, at a major intersection that will only be growing in importance in the years to come," Mathin said.
BlackMINE Group has since invested more than $28 million in developing the project, with planning and design ramped up over the past two years. The firm is now deep into construction schematic design with partners Balfour Beatty Construction, HKS Architects and Capella Hotel Group, and could start submitting building permit applications in September or October, Mathin said.
Permit reviews can take four to six weeks to be approved if things go smoothly, making a groundbreaking date in November or December for construction on iSquare a best-case scenario, he said.
To finance the remaining $250 million or more of the project, BlackMINE confirmed for GrowthSpotter that it's working with boutique investment adviser Chesterfield Faring, Ltd., to round up private investors by the time construction starts in the fourth quarter of this year, or early 2016.
"We'll be giving away up to 30 percent in iSquare equity through minority stakes, but most investments will be driven by the promise of annual dividends or interest," Mathin said. "We already have commitments from investors, but we don't need that money now. We arrange it and when we start breaking ground the money starts coming in. You don't want to be paying return on investment when the money isn't invested (in construction) yet."
Estimated to cost $300 million to $400 million, the iSquare Mall + Hotel will include a five-story upscale mall with 350,000 gross square feet of retail space, an 11-story parking garage, and a 27-floor Solis Orlando Hotel. The hotel will have 700-plus rooms and be a five-star facility that should feature seven-star amenities like an ice-skating rink, private butler and chef service, a helipad and more when it opens in late 2017.
"We're going the direction of the Hong Kong Ritz Carlton, of where if you ask for a Ferrari for the day a key is placed in your room with a thank-you note by the concierge," Mathin said. "There's an important segment of the traveling public, your top 5 percent, that are willing and able to pay $800 or more per night for a hotel because they want an exclusive experience, and they expect such a service to carry a premium price. We want to serve that public here."
BlackMINE had its project master plan approved by Orlando City Council in August 2014, with the land entitled for 2.1 million gross square feet, and a 400-foot height limit that Mathin compromised to, after initial plans aimed for 500 feet.
Mathin said one of the best lessons he learned from developing iSquare was how much time and stress he could save by working with the city's planning office as early as possible.
"From day one, we asked them what they thought was feasible for the site, what they could and could not approve, and what the best uses may be," he said. "We worked hand-in-hand throughout the design of the master plan, and that went quite quickly. Next step is getting the permitting done."
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