Starflyer progresses with PD zoning change, neighbor businesses may challenge

An artist's rendering of the ground-level view of the Starflyer attraction planned for Kings Plaza, near the intersection of International Drive and Jamaican Court.
An artist's rendering of the ground-level view of the Starflyer attraction planned for Kings Plaza, near the intersection of International Drive and Jamaican Court. (provided)

The developer of the 425-foot Starflyer attraction planned for International Drive hopes to choose a general contractor in the coming months and break ground by July, but another land owner and tenants of Kings Plaza may file a legal challenge to halt the project.

The threat of another potential roadblock for Starflyer follows a unanimous decision Tuesday by Orange County commissioners, who approved site owner Unicorp National Developments' request to add an "amusement" use to the Goodings Plaza PD, and apply Convention Plaza District Overlay Zone rules to allow for a 450-foot height maximum on the parcel.


Unicorp and Starflyer owner agree to wait until December for I-Drive Visioning Committee to present final study to Orange County.

The world's tallest swing ride is planned for the Vue at 360, the future name for what is now Kings Plaza, an 8.9-acre parcel owned by Unicorp. Charley's Steak House and Kings Bowling hold long-term leases with Unicorp in the plaza. The property lies directly north of I-Drive 360.

Contiguous to Kings Plaza, but separate parcels, are Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theater owned by the Redmond family out of Chuluota, Fla. (5.37 acres), and a Fairfield Inn and Suites fronting Universal Boulevard owned by an affiliate of Avista Hotels (1.89 acres).

Starflyer developer Ritchie Armstrong's Orlando Starflyer LLC will lease a pad from Unicorp within the Kings Plaza parcel.

Armstrong told GrowthSpotter Tuesday his project is now on pace to break ground on that pad by July, and could be operational by the end of 2016. A Development Plan and permits must be approved by county staff in the coming months, during which a general contractor will be hired. Kimley-Horn and Associates is civil engineer on the project.

Armstrong won't seek a loan for the project, previously projected at $5 million, and will fund the development with his own equity, that of an international group of thrill park companies which may participate, and some funding from Unicorp for beautification around the pad.

Representatives for Sleuth's, Charley's Steak House and Kings Bowling petitioned the commissioners to not allow amusement use to be added to the Goodings Plaza PD. As stakeholders in the plaza, they don't agree with Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall's plan for placement of the Starflyer ride close to International Drive.

Developer Chuck Whittall's public desire to redevelop the Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theater property has put its owners in a position of strength for potential sale negotiations.

GrowthSpotter first reported on Nov. 17 that Whittall had a master plan to redevelop a 76-acre block over the next decade east of I-Drive, between W. Sand Lake Road and Via Mercado. The Kings Plaza property and Starflyer feature prominently in that plan.

Plaza stakeholders believe Whittall only created that plan to satisfy Orange County staff's questions this past July about how Starflyer would fit in with future development, said Nicholas A. Pope, attorney with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kanter & Reed, P.A., who represented owners of Kings Bowling and Charley's Steak House.

"That plan was created just to get this PD change approved for the ride," Pope said. "There's no guarantee he will follow through on it."

Following the board's approval, Whittall said Tuesday that complaints by the Kings Plaza stakeholders were unfounded. Parking won't be reduced on the site, as Starflyer will cover an existing taxi stand area, and more tourist foot traffic in the plaza will be positive for all.

The Redmond family is more than happy with their income on the theater and sees little chance of selling to be part of Unicorp's master plan for a 76-acre redevelopment.

After the hearing, Sleuth's co-owner Sandra Redmond huddled with representatives of Charley's Steak House and Kings Bowling, and said they'll discuss a potential appeal or legal challenge of the PD change.

Australian ride manufacturer The FunTime Group will manufacture the Starflyer, and Maryland-based Ride Entertainment will install it.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.