Convention Hotel Moving Forward; April 25, 2023
Future Brightline extension, new Universal theme park amp up excitement for long-planned 36-story hotel project
Since Skorman Development acquired the six-acre property on Westwood Boulevard in 2017, Universal has unveiled a billion-dollar plan to build its third theme park called Epic Universe within walking distance. Brightline is bringing its high-speed train service from South Florida to the Orlando International Airport by this summer. It plans to take riders from the airport to Tampa by 2030, with a proposed stop at the doorstep of Skorman’s future highrise hotel.
Earlier this year, Universal created an entity that would help finance an 11-mile leg of that route from the airport to the convention center. The new Universal theme park and the future Brightline expansion are expected to give Orlando’s already booming tourism industry an added boost. And Skorman feels like he’s right dab in the middle of “the perfect storm with the perfect project,” he said.
According to a January report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, Orlando was the largest U.S. city tourism destination in 2022 with an economic contribution of over $31 billion, recovering above 2019 levels by $2.7 billion. “The new Brightline expansion from the airport to Miami will now draw from South Florida’s millions of residents and annual visitors,” Skorman added in an email. “We anticipate hotel demand accelerating and the desire for new options, alongside the anticipated increase in conferences at the Orange County Convention Center, will make this hotel site uniquely situated to fill a market need.” Skorman is expected in the coming weeks or months to announce which flag will appear on the hotel. There’s a lot of competition, he noted. “I’ve had more excitement in the last two weeks on this project than I have in the last six years,” Skorman said. “Brightline and Epic Universe is huge for this project. Huge.”
The project, approved by Orange County in early 2022, consists of a 36-story, 996,000-square-foot hotel attached to a six-story parking garage with 1,000 spaces. Designed by Atlanta-based architecture firm Smallwood plans call for 30,000 square feet of meeting space on the fifth floor and 70,000 square feet of meeting space on the seventh floor. A fitness center will cover 4,000 square feet on the fourth floor while 5,000 square feet on the ground floor would be reserved for retail space. Jim Hall of HDSi led the project which included Kimley Horn as civils and Libra Design Group as LAs.
Plans call for three restaurants — one of 36,000 square feet on the ground floor, one of 900 square feet on the eighth floor, and another totaling 19,000 square feet at the very top of the hotel on the 36th floor. “The 360-degree view of all theme park fireworks every night from the restaurant planned for the 36th floor is spectacular,” Skorman said. “This will be the best location in Central Florida for taking full advantage of the firework displays. Not even the Orlando Wheel can compete with the type of view that our customers would get to enjoy.” Skorman said he expects to project to break ground in 2024.
The hotel is set to go up between Westwood Boulevard and S.R. 428, near I-Drive and across the street from Sea World. SeaWorld hit revenue, net income and adjusted earnings records in its 2022 fiscal year. Its newest attraction, Pipeline: The Surf Coaster, is set to open later this spring. The ride simulates the experience of surfing by putting riders in a standing position and sending them through curves and a “‘wave curl inversion” at a top speed of 60 mph.
Meanwhile, Orange County is moving forward on a $700 million effort to add another 1 million square feet to its convention center. The space currently covers 7 million square feet overall and has 2 million square feet of exhibition space.
Epic Universe is on track to open in summer of 2025 on 750 acres and will have its own hotels onsite and adjacent to the park. Those include the 500-room Grand Helios hotel at the back of the park and a pair of sister resort hotels, the Stella Nova and Terra Luna, each with 750 rooms.