Margaritaville officials raised a glass Thursday morning with tourism representatives from the Orlando region as they officially broke ground on the new 187-room Kissimmee hotel.
The new hotel is the centerpiece of the company's $750 million resort that has been called a game-changer for Osceola County's W192 corridor and the Four Corners area. The resort is expected to open in late 2018.
John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville Holdings, told the hundreds of invited guests on Thursday that "our soul is in Florida. We started 30 years ago in Key West, and now we're breaking ground on our biggest project yet right here in Osceola County."
South Florida-based Encore Capital Management is master developer of the resort, which is planned to feature 1,000 Key West-style vacation cottages, 300 timeshares, a 12-acre water park and a 200,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment district.
The retail and entertainment district "will be very experiential in the Margaritaville style," Encore CEO Art Falcone told GrowthSpotter. "Everything is very themed."
The district will include multiple music venues, the largest of which will seat between 500 and 700 people. Falcone said Encore expects to execute a lease in the next few weeks for a movie theater. He also confirmed rumors that country music group Rascal Flatts would open one of its signature restaurants here.
Horizontal construction at the resort has been underway now for more than a year, and much of the shopping center is vertical now. A 324-unit apartment complex, Domain, is weeks away from opening. The only finished structure on site is the sales center.
Pat McBride, CEO of the McBride Company, leads the design process of the Margaritaville properties. The hotel lobby will feature unique, whimsical touches, including margarita glass chandeliers and a giant, blue flip-flop sculpture. The hotel will have 30,000 square feet of private function space, as well.
Margaritaville Development Manager Jim Bagley said the hotel lobby is dramatically oversized because it serves as the gateway to the resort for most guests. "We think we're going to redefine experiential hospitality," he said. "It's going to be an immersive Margaritaville-branded experience."
Even the architecture plays a key role in the Margaritaville experience. The rooms extend horizontally from the lobby - not vertically.
"Many hotels are very vertical, so the cost effectiveness of building a hotel is to have a footprint that is a box that goes straight up," he said. "We wanted to get away from that, so you'll see this hotel that kind of looks like a slinky.
"The lobby is something that is unseen in Orlando, and it's much larger than you would normally do in a 200-room hotel, but that's part of the experience," Bagley continued. "So we have three restaurants there, we have a full retail center there. It's going to be very socially interactive right inside the lobby."
The 3-acre swimming lagoon will hold 14 million gallons of water and a 60,000-square-foot beachfront. It will be surrounded by 2,200 beach chairs.
The water park is on track to open in March 2019.
"The water park season is typically March to Labor Day," he said. "We're expecting attendance between 700,000 and 1 million a year. And the entire resort will bring 3-4 million tourists through our gates every year, which will likely place it among the top 10 attractions in Orlando based on attendance."
Spawned by a 1970s song about a salt-rimmed drink, the Margaritaville group now has nine resorts/hotels, four gaming locations, more than 60 food-and-beverage retail operations, a line of apparel, home decor and signature beverages.
Bagley said each of the resort's three entrances on W192 would feature a "Las Vegas-style" entertainment sign that would extend the Margaritaville theming out on the corridor. Each sign could be as tall as 50 feet and will include LED lighting with live video feeds.
"We're designing them in-house now," he said. "We should have something ready to submit in about 30 days."
Osceola County's W192 Redevelopment Authority voted in late April to spend millions of dollars over the next few years to upgrade the landscaping, lighting and streetscape in front of the resort. Executive Director David Buchheit said the authority hopes to collaborate with Margaritaville so the design complements the resort theming.
"Our goal is to accentuate the projects that are out there," he said.
Bagley said his team is working with county officials to revise the landscaping requirements on W192 to allow for more tropical plants.
"We understand the Florida-friendly requirements, and we want to be good conservation partners. But we also think there's a good opportunity for a themed landscape that can fit into those parameters," he said.
The company is also advocating for a trolly or tram system to ferry tourists between attractions on U.S. 192 -- even before the county implements its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on the corridor.
"A lot of tourists don't have a car and they don't rent a car, and we've got to find a way to bring them here," he said. "So we think a sensible mass transit system like they have at Disney makes a lot of sense."