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ORLANDO-Rida Development Corp. of Houston, Apollo Real Estate Advisors of New York and Omni Hotel Corp. of Dallas broke ground today (Nov. 20) on what they say is the largest hotel started in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC.

The 700-room, $150 million Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate is being built five miles south of Walt Disney World at a hard construction cost of about $215,000 per room, RIDA senior vice president Ira Mitzner tells GlobeSt.com. GMAC Commercial Mortgage Co. is the project’s lead lender. Colonial Bank is a participating lender.

The entire 1,400-acre mixed-use venture has a buildout value of about $750 million, Mitzner says. The combined construction value of the hotel and two golf courses is $175 million

“The real strength of this entire project is that it is being built during a recessionary period in which the partners and the lenders have equal confidence in the venture’s success,” Mitzner tells GlobeSt.com. “That’s quite a national statement.”

At 200 feet high, he says the hotel will be the tallest commercial structure in Osceola County. The property is on Masters Boulevard near the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.

The joint venture partners already have $100 million worth of projects in the ground. They include two Greg Norman-designed golf courses, a 50,000-sf clubhouse, golf academy and a 60,000-sf office complex which houses the Florida offices of RIDA Development Corp and the national headquarters of Meadowbrook Golf Group Inc.

Mitzner says ChampionsGate is being “carefully developed” for weekend, seasonal or permanent guests as a community of condos, resort villas, luxury apartments and second homes, all centered around the golfing theme.

“We know we are competing in the conference market” with established players such as the Grand Cypress Resort, J.W. Marriott, the Peabody Hotel, Gaylord Palms Resort and the 19 Disney hotels, Mitzner says. “But one of our biggest pluses is that we will be the first full golf resort in Florida” where golfers have the option of playing on two championship courses at the same location.

The two courses are designed as a Scottish-themed International links and an Augusta, GA-themed National green. The hotel also will have tennis volleyball and basketball courts, along with numerous recreational outlets.

With little pre-construction fanfare, ChampionsGate already is at the forefront of the hottest commercial/residential/industrial development axis in Central Florida, area land brokers tell GlobeSt.com. The hub is locally known as Four Corners.

Developed on a former citrus grove, ChampionsGate sits next to a new interchange at Exit 24 of Interstate 4 west, 20 miles south of Downtown Orlando. The hotel is at Exit 58.

The venture has been in the planning and development states for the past five years. The new interchange spurred its development, along with nearby unrelated commercial projects by other developers, area planners not affiliated with ChampionsGate, tell GlobeSt.com.

Land prices have shot up as new developments are announced. For example, in May of this year, BP/Amoco paid $900,000 or $676,692 per acre ($15.53 per sf) for 1.33 acres at ChampionsGate, according to Osceola County real estate records.

Area land brokers tell GlobeSt.com the same undeveloped parcel was valued at about $5,000 per acre or 11 cents per sf 15 years ago.

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