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ORLANDO-With 100,000 existing hotel rooms, metro Orlando is still seeking a five-star trophy inn. That dream may materialize next year, as some of the 4,700 new hotel rooms open for business. Developers see a niche in building high-end inns here after years of erecting mid-priced lodging for the tourist guest.

That will be a turnaround for the area which claims to offer the highest number of economically-priced rooms in the nation, according to the Orlando-Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The turnaround is happening as the four million-sf Orange County Convention Center draws more business travelers looking for newer hotels with five star-like appeal.

Orlando doesn’t have a five-star hotel yet, but analysts say it could happen next year or in 2002 when a half dozen top drawer inns are scheduled to open their doors. Among them is developer Richard Kessler’s $37 million, 250 room Westin Grand Bohemian across from Downtown’s City Hall. Scheduled to open in March, the Grand Bohemian will charge an average $200 a night. But that may not be enough to break even unless the hotel is full every night, caution some hotel consultants.

Another top-of-the-line inn venture hotel mavens are watching is Marriott International’s two-hotel, 1,584-room complex planned for the currently remote intersection of John Young Parkway and Central Florida Parkway in south Orange County. Analysts are monitoring this particular project because Atlanta-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. will be operating but not owning one of the hotels comprising 584 rooms at estimated average nightly rates of $350. Marriott will operate its own 1,000-room hotel next door which will offer 100,000 sf of meeting space, the largest product of its kind within an Orlando hotel.

“Once you start building these high-priced hotels at over $150,000 a room, you had better be prepared to take in some good nightly rates at a steady pace,” Robin L. Webb, a longtime hotel specialist and vice president/managing principal in the commercial division at Arvida Realty Services Inc. in Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com. Based on the hard construction cost of $37 million, the Grand Bohemian is being built at $148,000 per room.

Scheduled to surface in 2002 is the 733-room Omni hotel at the Championsgate mixed-used venture in Osceola County, just south of Walt Disney World and 25 miles from Downtown Orlando. Houston-based Rida Development Corp. estimates nightly room rates, like the Grand Bohemian, will be in the $200 range. The $150 million Omni is being built at a hard construction cost of $204,638 per room.

By contrast, Hilton Hotels of Beverly Hills, CA plans to erect a 1,400-room convention-oriented hotel at an estimated hard construction cost of $100 million or just $71,428 per room. No ground-breaking date has been announced for the International Drive venture.

Walt Disney World isn’t left out of the high-end hotel development picture, either. The theme park has broken ground on the 1,307-room Animal Kingdom Lodge which will bring Disney’s total room count to 34,000 and the number of hotels operating on Disney property to 21. The hotel, near the Animal Kingdom park, is being built at an estimated hard construction cost of $163 million or about $125,000 per room. Estimated nightly room rates are in the $200 range.

Unfazed by the direction of some developers towards the high-end niche, Disney continues to concentrate on the economy-priced product with plans for a 20-building, 5,760-room resort near Disney-MGM Studios. Average estimated nightly rates will be in the $75 to $125 area. The resort’s estimated hard construction cost is $576 million or an estimated $100,000 per room. The first 2,880-room phased is due for completion in 2002.

Even with all of the planned new hotel development, metro Orlando’s September average occupancy was 74%, well above the national average of 65%, according to the Orlando-Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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