Reveling in the unanimous approval Tuesday night by Orange County Commissioners of the rezoning request for his Skyplex entertainment complex, developer Joshua Wallack promised a "December to Remember" ahead, with an opening date set for Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando, a construction loan and retail tenant signings expected for the neighboring parking garage, and bid packages for Skyplex likely to go out.
Following roughly three hours of public testimony Tuesday from more than 40 people, the county board approved rezoning for Wallack Holdings' $500 million-project.
Representatives from Universal Orlando spoke publicly against the project because of its projected height of 700 feet above sea level, as did a handful of private residents. But the vast majority of speakers were in favor of the development on International Drive.
Skyplex plans to have a 501-foot vertical rollercoaster, a 450-foot drop tower, a 600-foot zip line, along with a 350-key hotel, 95,000 square feet of retail space, close to 40,000 square feet of restaurant space and 333,000 square feet of entertainment space.
"I feel very humbled that the BCC decided to rezone our land. They were under a lot of pressure," Wallack said. "I feel pleased to have our PD (Planned Development zoning). Today's decision resolved questions about the polercoaster, the height, density and parking, all the building blocks necessary for the project."
Wallack said Universal Orlando had waged an "18-month war" against his project, commenting that the company's lobbying may have become more aggressive in recent months because of plans to buy and develop the 474-acre, 19-parcel package of Colony Capital land east of Universal Boulevard. GrowthSpotterbroke the story Tuesday afternoon that Universal has a contract option in place for that package.
"If they do buy that property they'll be in county territory, so it's unlikely they'd sue the county over this Skyplex decision, because they'll have to deal with the county for all the entitlements to that land," Wallack said.
A Universal spokesman declined to comment Thursday night on what he deemed a market rumor about a pending land transaction.
While Joshua Wallack's Skyplex project did not get the desired recommendation for rezoning approval Thursday from Orange County's Planning and Zoning Commission, his team is optimistic for BCC approval in December, with major bid packages later that month.
Looking ahead, Wallack said his family's second Mango's Tropical Cafe location, at 8126 I-Drive, should have a soft opening next week and official grand opening on Dec. 17. He also expects to close a construction loan on the parking garage that will neighbor Mango's this month, and sign three retail tenants to occupy space on the ground floor or roof of that garage.
As GrowthSpotter reported in mid-October, bid packages for site work, steel and foundation on the Skyplex entertainment complex are still expected to go out in December by Euforria, a subsidiary of Winter Park Construction that's serving as pre-construction manager on the project.
Wallack didn't know he was starting a property acquisition marathon in June 2011 that would last three years and seven months, with eight land parcels sourced from eight different parties, 17.43 acres assembled overall and $69.35 million invested in real estate alone. How the Wallack family found the land and financing to make their Mango's Orlando and Skyplex projects happen is a compelling real estate story.
Wallack Holdings' development team -- which includes Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock/Architects(HHCP), U.S. Thrill Rides (polercoaster design) and Celtic Engineering -- will next have to submit a Development Plan for the project to county planning staff, along with a master sign plan and more in the coming months. Wallack has said ground will break for construction in First Quarter 2016.
Questions at the early October Planning & Zoning Commission hearing for Skyplex about light pollution from the project were likely resolved Tuesday night by testimony from experts in the field. Wallack said light from the Skyplex would be directed inward, compared to light from I-Drive 360's Orlando Eye that projects outward.
In Part 2, of Anatomy of a Deal, we pick up in Summer 2013, when Joshua Wallack would begin building a vision and momentum for Skyplex to acquire the final six necessary parcels to make his projects work.