Building a better I-4? If you’re from the Central Florida area, you have heard that term a time or two. But a group of visionaries, including the father-and-son firm Wallack Holdings LLC, plans to build a better I-Drive by bringing their South Beach nightclub Mango's Tropical Cafe to Orlando and by building Skyplex, which will feature the tallest roller coaster in the world.
The massive project has been subject to some skepticism. Some have wondered if this attraction could be pulled off, especially by 2017, as predicted.
A representative of Wallack Holdings LLC, Joshua Wallack, met with me and addressed the skeptics.
"I think 2017 is a little aggressive," he said. "I’d like to say we’d be substantially complete with the Polercoaster tower and many of the buildings on the site by 2017 and then we’d be onto the interiors. By spring of 2018, it’ll be rock ‘n' rolling."
Although some have wondered if Skyplex would even actually break ground, Wallack assured me that it would.
"Money talks," he said. “We spent more than $50 million to buy all the land. So obviously we are serious. Believe me, it's happening. We already own the whole site. We basically paid cash for the site. So we are very real."
He also addressed the length of time it took to purchase the entire site and businesses that weren't even for sale. This process alone took about a year and a half. The project is currently going through a rezoning process to turn the purchased sites into one giant site.
So which businesses were purchased by Wallack Holdings?
1. World Bowling Center and Dowdy Bowling Alley - Purchased in 2014 from Ron Dowdy and his family. The Dowdy property adds another 4 acres to the attraction, which is around 14 acres total.
2. Dowdy Ice Rink
3. Former Fun and Wheels property
4. Burger King
6. Perkins Restaurant - Wallack Holdings LLC was required to purchase an additional seven Perkins Restaurants for $29 million from General Electric in order to gain ownership of the one on I-Drive.
Here's what Wallack Holdings LLC will bring:
Mango's Tropical Cafe - Replacing the old TGI Fridays, the Orlando location will be three times the size of the original South Beach location, which is 19,000 square feet.
Walk-through of Mango's Tropical Cafe:
- Entrance to feature a sidewalk cafe and band shell, offering a reggae/ beach party day club atmosphere before dinner and a show. This takes place each day from noon-5/6 p.m.
- Two seatings for dinner and a show, beginning at 6 p.m. Included is a four-course dinner in front of the main bar stage with Mango's dancers.
- At the conclusion of the shows, lights come down, music goes up and venue turns into a nightclub
- Eight bars, 7,000 lineal feet
- Kitchen with 6,000 square feet of space and a full menu described as gourmet bar food and bistro
- Two main floors; views from veranda include Orlando Eye, Skyplex and new parking garage (replaced Walgreens)
Four major attractions announced (so far) within the Skyplex, A 570-foot, $460 million facility, to contain the world's tallest roller coaster. The attraction will be located across the intersection from Mango's Cafe, which will be contiguous once the pedestrian bridge is built. (Sandlake and I-Drive intersection)
1. Polercoaster - From U.S. Thrill Rides, the coaster will be the world's largest, standing at 570 feet. It will be called the Skyscraper. The coaster will have a 55-story glass elevator that will take guests to an observation deck that houses a restaurant.
2. Skyfall - Ride will drop riders from 450 feet in the air, which is more than twice as tall as Universal Orlando's Dr. Doom's Fear Fall and the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
3. Skyfly- 600-foot zip line that shoots riders backward and upward toward Sky Plaza
4. (Newly announced) SkySurf - Featuring professional-level waves and two pools atop hotel parking garage.
Plans also include a 350-room hotel, which will feature meeting spaces, fitness and pool areas and a parking garage.
A big concern has been whether International Drive can handle traffic brought by the new attractions. To alleviate these parking concerns, Orange County commissioners unanimously approved rezoning for a 600-space parking garage in the lot of an old Walgreens at Sand Lake Road and International Drive. The lot will service the SkyPlex and Mango's Tropical Cafe.
Another concern has been pedestrian safety. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs proposed $300 million for new projects, $15 million of which would be used for that issue. Plans for the pedestrian bridge on Sand Lake Road and I-Drive are underway and will put users right in the front of the Skyplex in what will be called the Pedestrian Plaza. The bridge will also extend over the soon-to-be-built world's largest McDonald's, which will replace the current McDonald's at the intersection.
The new attraction will be all contiguous, meaning all internal attractions are connected. The ultimate goal, according to Wallack, is to create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly format on International Drive where people can park once in the new parking garages and then walk, just as it is done in urban cities.
“We are creating a brand outside of the theme parks," Wallack said. "This is not some second-tier hotel support structure for the convention center and everyone’s dumping ground for cheaper rooms. This is going to become competitive and is going to push out and not just take in and we are going to have our own brand out here that’s not Disney, Universal or SeaWorld. It’s more of a theme park and that’s what we’re going for here – that’s the 21st century I-Drive."
A word from head architect Alan C. Helman, FAIA chariman emeritus founding partner – HHCP
"I’ve been here since pre-Disney. I’ve been working for Harris Rosen, who’s a legend in Central Florida and the International Drive area. And now we have the opportunity to work with Josh and his partners in one of the most incredible Central Florida projects, maybe world-wide-type projects ever. And we’re very excited about it. This is no small job. But when you start thinking about the amount of entertainment value we’re going to be having on this small piece of land, which is only about 14 acres, it’s absolutely amazing. In fact, if you think about all the things that are going to be in SkyPlex – you need 30 or 40 acres to do all of that stuff. So what Josh and his partners are doing is creating something that I’m calling, 'A vertical theme park resort project.' Because it’s layered. We have everything that a theme park could have, a resort could have, it’s going to be a fun place for Central Florida – it’s going to be very unique throughout the world and we are very fortunate we do work all over the world and so this vertical theme park, vertical themed attraction, vertical resort, is going to have all the things that no place on earth has."