News Column

Orlando Sentinel Jim Stratton and Sandra Pedicini column

August 17, 2014

By Jim Stratton and Sandra Pedicini, Orlando Sentinel



Aug. 17--The developer of a futuristic mall, hotel and entertainment complex proposed for north International Drive has promised a project that will look unlike anything else in Orlando -- a "22nd Century" design.

But until recently, parts of it looked an awful lot like -- even identical to -- projects that already exist elsewhere.

Some renderings and images recently featured on the iSquare --Hotel website -- a site trumpeting unique look of the proposal -- had been taken from other projects or from a cache of stock photos found online.

The iSquare site, for example, included a photo of a sleek, modern hotel room with a skyline view. But it was a photo of a room at a "W" hotel in New York. The site also featured a rendering of a performing arts hall with red seats and broad, white intersecting lines forming several balcony levels.

But that image was from a Los Angeles firm's design for a performing arts center at San Francisco State University. The rendering was being used without permission from the architectural firm.

"That is incredible," said Betty Tanaka, managing principal at Michael Maltzan Architecture. "I'm absolutely appalled that our project would be on such a website."

It's not anymore. ISquare developer Abdul Mathin removed several images from the website after the Orlando Sentinel asked about the pictures.

Last week, Mathin said the images were intended to convey the "concept of the mall and hotel." But nothing on the site indicated the images were "conceptual."

Mathin said the project, expected to cost between $300 million and $400 million, would have "the finest interiors" seen in Florida.

The Orlando City Council approved the project last week. Mathin, who says he already has financing for the project, says it could open to the public within two years.

Disney makes executive changes

Walt Disney Co. is making some executive changes after Tom Wolber's transfer to Disneyland Paris.

Josh D'Amaro is going from his position as vice president of Animal Kingdom into Wolber's role as senior vice president of Walt Disney World resort and transportation operations.

Moving over to become Animal Kingdom's vice president is Djuan Rivers, who was vice president of hotels and business solutions at Disneyland Paris.

Disney announced earlier this month it had appointed Wolber to president of Disneyland Paris' management company, Euro Disney S.A.S. Wolber had been in the newly created position of senior vice president of Walt Disney World resort and transportation operations just a few months.

He is replacing Philippe Gas, who was named general manager of Shanghai Disney Resort, which has not yet opened. The previous manager, Michael Crawford, departed to take a newly-created position as president of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts'Asia Pacific division.

SeaWorld signs Asian agreement

As it reported poor earnings last week, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. also announced it has reached an agreement to co-develop theme parks in Russia, India and other parts of Asia. It has signed a letter of intent with Village Roadshow Theme Parks, a division of Village Roadshow Limited. Village Roadshow is Australia's largest theme park operator. Its attractions include a Sea World in Queensland that has no affiliation with the Orlando company.

Earlier this year, SeaWorld signed a memorandum of understanding with a partner to assess Middle Eastern park development.

Tourism tax soars 8 percent

Thanks to an improving economy and greater consumer confidence, Orlando is racking up strong tourism numbers. Orange County's tourist-tax collections are up almost 8 percent through the first six months of the year, and local hotels are posting good occupancy rates.

Likewise, Orlando International Airport, the gateway for many of those out-of-state visitors, reports that both domestic and international travel numbers were up through the first six months of the year.

Airport officials say overall traffic rose by about 0.82 percent to almost 18.2 million passengers. International traffic jumped almost 5 percent to 2.1 million while domestic travel rose 0.3 percent to a little more than 16 million.

Orlando Sanford International Airport, meanwhile, saw overall traffic rise by almost 8 percent to 1.1 million. Domestic travel there rose by more than 17 percent to a little more than 1 million passengers. International traffic, which accounts for about 10 percent of its total traffic, fell by 36 percent.

spedicini@tribune.com or 407-420-5240

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(c)2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)


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