Orlando’s International Drive gets a facelift

06/13/2014 7:38 AM

06/13/2014 7:39 AM

Joshua Wallack originally thought he was just buying a patch of land off Orlando's International Drive that would one day house a parking lot for his restaurant group's newest venture in Central Florida.

But when several stakeholders opposed having a lot on the proposed site, he agreed to a new spot. There was just one problem.

"It was like, 'What the heck are we going to do with the land we were going to use to park cars on?" Wallack said.

A year later, he's now looking forward to being a major part of the latest face-lifts to one of Orlando's most-visited areas.

By 2016, the Orlando International Drive District, a first of its kind when it was established in 1993, will house two new entertainment complexes.

Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando, co-owned by Wallack and his father, David, who also own Mango’s on Miami Beach, announced plans this month to bring the world's tallest roller-coaster — the 570-foot Skyscraper — and the $200 million, 495,000-square foot Skyplex indoor entertainment complex to I-Drive. It will join the nearby I-Drive 360 shopping, dining and entertainment complex being developed by Unicorp National Developments, and including a trio of attractions by Merlin Entertainments — the 400-foot Orlando Eye Ferris wheel, Madame Tussauds wax museum and Sea Life Orlando aquarium.

Skyplex and I-Drive 360, which officials hope will be a new centerpiece for the well-traveled tourist vein, will also be joined by several new restaurants and projects including a new Titanic: The Experience museum.

"Other than Walt Disney World, every other major attraction is on International Drive," Joshua Wallack said. "There are about 60 million tourists and conventioneers coming every year to the Orlando tourist corridor, and if you have critical mass with your attractions, you're gonna get lots of customers. I think International Drive is in a Renaissance period."

International Drive already employs about 32,000 people, and the Wallacks said the projects will add between 800 and 1,000 new jobs.

Rosen Hotels president and chief operating officer Harris Rosen said it is a welcomed boon for an area that he's been affiliated with for 40 years.

Rosen has seven hotels in Orlando, including five located on International Drive. His Rosen Centre also just opened Harry's Poolside Bar & Grill last week.

"It's really quite extraordinary what's going on," Rosen said. "We're really offering an abundance of fun activities. What it means is that we're going to be able to keep people on the Drive longer. Clearly, people will go to Disney, SeaWorld and other places. But I think they'll also say, 'Let's spend a day on International Drive and see all the amenities it has.' "

James Paulding, head of new openings for Merlin Entertainments North America, said the timing to be on I-Drive is perfect.

"International Drive is getting a new lease on life," he said. "We're not looking a taking a whole day of people's schedule. We're kind of trying to fit into people’s vacation time and provide something for locals, as well."

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