CHAMPIONSGATE — It says something, Marc Reicher noted, that ChampionsGate’s new conference center is still several months away from a grand opening, and already it appears that anticipation for the project has increased bookings at the development’s Omni Orlando Resort.
“We are currently under construction,” Reicher said. “We hope to have the facility open on January 1 of 2013.”
Reicher, the vice president of development for RIDA Development Corporation, the parent company of ChampionsGate and its Omni Resort, said heightened expectations about this project, and the space it will provide to Osceola County and Northeast Polk County for hosting special events, has led to an increase in bookings at the Omni.
“It’s been a real success for the hotel,” Reicher said. “That’s what it really comes down to. The fact that it’s there helps to reposition the Omni as a very competitive conference center in terms of a space-to-room ratio, which allows larger venues to come to Osceola County. With that extra space, it gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of what we can bring in, and since we got the approval for the conference center in March, the Omni has since booked over 1,000 room nights that can be attributed to this conference center.”
Once completed, the new conference center is expected to be a major economic driver, and not just for RIDA and ChampionsGate, which has property in both Osceola and Polk counties. The entire region is likely to see a significant economic development boost, Reicher said.
Billing itself as “Florida’s premier golf resort community,” ChampionsGate now covers 1,500 acres of land and is home to two 18-hole golf courses, a clubhouse with a golf shop and the Piper’s Grill restaurant, the Omni Orlando Resort, and a shopping plaza that includes a Publix Supermarket, restaurants like Chili’s, and other shops.
The resort, which has villas and condominiums that people can purchase, is also in the middle of constructing the 55,000 square foot conference center, and RIDA is moving ahead with plans for a new Hampton Inn service hotel next to the Chili’s restaurant.
On the Polk County side of ChampionsGate, the firm is going to construct a field for sports activities, with ball fields that aim to attract more amateur sports to Polk County.
“You’re probably looking at $35-40 million worth of expansion,” Reicher said. “It’s being pumped in as we speak.”
The biggest project is the conference center, which ChampionsGate is constructing in partnership with the Osceola County government and the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee.
“It is under construction,” Reicher said. “We got approval and were funded last March. It’s part of an overall facilities agreement. We teamed up with Gaylord Palms and solicited a $180 million project, with $100 million going to RIDA and $80 million to Gaylord Palms.”
The new conference center will include a 28,000 square-foot grand baIlroom, and eight smaller conference rooms.
“It’s truly going to be beautiful,” Reicher said. “The drywall is going up at this point. The physical building will be called the Osceola County Conference Center at ChampionsGate, but we’re even going so far as to use names that are local. The large ballroom will be the Osceola Ballroom, and with the smaller rooms, we’re paying tribute to Kissimmee, St. Cloud, Harmony and celebration. We’re excited about this. It has been well received by the meeting planners as fresh and exciting.”
The new Hampton Inn and Suites, to be located adjacent to the Chili’s Restaurant near the exit for Interstate 4, is a $16 million project that will offer 120 hotel rooms. At the same time, RIDA is moving forward with plans for ball fields on the Polk County side of ChampionsGate.
“Part of it requires us to build these ball fields, which we are about ready to bid on,” Reicher said. “We feel teams will travel from all over the place to participate in athletics here, and we’ve got the Myrtle Sports complex right down the road from us,” he said of the Lake Myrtle Sports Park in Auburndale.
“We hope to ride on that,” Reicher said.
Reicher is also excited that the county governments in Osceola and Polk decided to work together to construct the Poinciana Parkway, a new toll road that will begin in Poinciana, and end in Polk County close to the I-4 exit by ChampionsGate. The groundbreaking for that project is at the end of this year, and Reicher thinks it will help make ChampionsGate even more attractive by providing greater highway access.
“It makes it easier to get around, which makes it easier for development,” he said.
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