Hilton hotel planned for Orlando

Project still on docket for area around Church Street Station


Aug. 4--Church Street Station's latest developer-to-the-rescue Cameron Kuhn appears to have fizzled out like so many before him.

Tremont Net Funding, the lender that gave Kuhn $43 million to buy the complex last year, filed a foreclosure suit against him last week.

The good news: The leader of a hotel group that had been considering the site told me he still intends to move forward with plans to build a full-service Hilton Hotel off Garland Avenue next to the Church Street Ballroom.

"We're currently working on finalizing everything with the city," said Bob Voelker, whose Gateway Hospitality Group owns Hiltons in multiple states. "Getting our financing all in line, it takes some time to do that because of the detail associated with the project."

If the foreclosure goes through, Tremont would have control of the property and have say over its development.

The bad news: It's unclear if the hotel will be built in time to help the current tenants, a collection of restaurants and bars, which have fought to be successful on Church Street since January.

The hotel could be the boost to finally lift the complex out of its two steps forward, one step back routine brought on by a line of owners during the past decade who all misfired when it came to restoring the property.

The hotel would also pose competition for the 250-room Grand Bohemian on the corner of Orange Avenue and South Street and the 55 West condominium tower that is still under construction and may include a hotel component.

Gateway's proposal pegs the Hilton at 25 stories and 355 rooms with an 11-story parking deck. It would also accommodate the western platform of the proposed commuter rail station off the railroad tracks on Church Street.

The proposed Hilton, given its size, focus on the meetings business and proximity to Church Street Station, would likely make more of an impact on the complex than the other two hotels.

Cassandra Lafser, a spokeswoman with Orlando's economic development department, confirmed that the city approved a master plan for the hotel in March and that Voelker has until March 2009 to pull a building permit.

Kuhn's development group announced last October that Gateway was considering the project and had been eyeing the location since before Kuhn took over.

Voelker said the project is unlikely to begin construction this year and wasn't able to offer a more specific time frame.

"It's a great location, a great city and we're very excited about moving forward on it," he said.

Times are tough all over

We've been hearing about how the uber-rich aren't experiencing the same economic crunch as everyone else.

Apparently, though, they're feeling some sympathy pangs.

According to a survey out this week by a firm that specializes in tracking luxury consumers, the ultra-affluent (household income above $250,000) showed the largest decline in spending in the second quarter compared with the same quarter last year as well as the first quarter of this year.

Those households are less likely to register a significant dip in their checkbook balances because of oil and food prices and the constraint of the credit markets.

But, said Unity Marketing President Pam Danziger, "It isn't the gas prices. What is hurting them and where they're feeling it is really the lack of confidence. It's not that they have less money, it's that they feel like they have less money. That's an important distinction."

Danziger said the survey of 1,024 luxury consumers conducted July 15 to July 21 also indicated that the worst could be over soon. She predicts that the luxury market will "start to feel new life" by the end of the fourth quarter, the critical holiday shopping period.