Is the Walesbilt hotel project on the verge of success?
According to Michael H. Frost, president of Buena Vista Hospitality Group, Inc. (BVHG), a Walesbilt hotel redevelopment project is “within 90 days of securing a firm loan commitment.” Frost spoke to LakeWalesNews.Net shortly after learning that the Lake Wales City Commission would consider approving a lawsuit to try to reclaim title to the property this week.
frost Buena Vista Hotel Group is the same organization that completed the renovation of the Hotel with terrace in downtown Lakeland over 30 years ago. This similarly sized hotel is now part of the Hilton Tapestry Collection.
The Frost Group has developed or managed dozens of properties not only in Florida, but around the world. In 1980, BVHG was granted the right to develop the Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa, the first new hotel to be built on the Disney property since it opened. Their record since that time is impressive. They have offices in England, Italy and Brazil in addition to the United States, and have been engaged to deliver the Walesbilt project since 2019.
“If it hadn’t been for Covid, we would probably be well advanced in construction,” said Frost, citing reluctance from lenders after the pandemic hit the hospitality industry particularly hard.
“We’re helping financially,” Frost said in a long phone conversation. “Not so much direct financing, but the confidence that our more than 40 years of experience gives to the lender. This project is not going to take down the coverage financially,” he added, “but it should pay off. silver.” Frost said BVHG acts as a representative of the owners during construction, including the management of furniture, fixtures, fittings, “and whatever is needed to build and equip” a hotel, he said. .
The 1926 Walesbilt Hotel has long been a symbol of downtown Lake Wales. The city’s community redevelopment agency is preparing to pour millions into rehabilitating streets, sidewalks and landscaping, including on both sides of the hotel. Long-term plans also include the construction of a parking garage, a project that could also benefit the hotel.
The city’s frustration with Brown’s long ownership of the building is evident in the discussions between the commissioners, and many citizens feel the same, wishing to see the project move forward. Frost says market conditions are to blame, but that is about to change.
“The market is seeing a renewed appetite from lenders,” he said, mainly from non-traditional private lenders rather than banks. A confidential letter from one such lender seen by LakeWalesNews.Net said they planned to close the hotel’s financing “in early 2022,” a timeline that dovetails with Frost’s prediction.
Frost said that Preferred hotels and resorts brought them into the Walesbilt accord. Preferred is a global marketing association representing high-end hotels. It has been in operation for over 50 years and boasts of reserving over $ 1 billion a year in bookings.
Representing a pending conclusion to the long search for capital to complete the project may influence discussions at Tuesday’s city committee meeting. Mayor Eugene Fultz also spoke to LakeWalesNews.Net over the weekend and made it clear that if Brown “doesn’t want to go to court, he has to come forward and show he has the funding and support of his. affiliates. We want to see the dollar amounts and the scope, timing, of what they’re offering. “
Brown complained that a meeting scheduled for November to present such information was canceled by the City on short notice. City manager James Slaton blamed the cancellation on a disagreement between city attorney Kevin Ashley and Brown’s legal representatives over a nondisclosure agreement written by Brown’s attorney that did not cover not the municipal staff concerned.
The hotel redevelopment had long been on the wishlist of a series of City leaders, but the project went without major funding for ten years. It is hoped that a renovated hotel will be the centerpiece of the major streetscape project undertaken by the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency.
Frost pointed out that Walesbilt can be part of this process. “We signed up to help them through the development process and operate it once it’s done,” he said.
BVHG’s current projects include operations such as the Marriott Autograph Collection Hollywood Park in California and the Cortona Golf and Spa Resort in Cortona, Italy, where they will provide services to complete the construction, open and operate a golf and spa resort. luxury 72 units. This project includes a Gary Player Signature golf course for which 9 holes have been completed, with the remaining 9 holes to be constructed.
“Our business is the development and operation of hotel businesses,” said Frost. “We have taken over existing projects (like in the Cortona project) but our main activity is to work throughout the development process.”
Frost acknowledged that a city lawsuit at this point in the process would be a serious setback and complicate the fundraising process.
“If they throw Brown out with the dishwater when he’s so close, what will it be, two or three years from now?” Frost asked. “Ray (Brown) has a great architect (Rick Gonzalez, an expert in historic preservation). He thinks beyond the financial aspects and truly appreciates the aspect of historic preservation. He will be a gold star for the lake. of Wales, “he added.