See that new humongous observation wheel from I-4? The developer behind the I-Drive 360 tells us all about it.
Well-known Orlando developer Chuck Whittall is responsible for many of the properties on Sand Lake Road, known as "Restaurant Row," as well as one of 2015's biggest attractions: the I-Drive 360. The development features the impressive 400-foot Orlando Eye observation wheel and major entertainment venues, restaurants and retailers opening now on International Drive. You're an Orlando native. When was your first trip to Disney?
I went the first week it opened in 1971. I was five years old. My father was a fireman and worked at Orange County, and they hired the off-duty firemen to work the theme park. I got in free. It was much smaller back then. They had the FantasyLand area and the Carousel of Progress. It was great—we got to go all the time. What was the city like 27 years ago when you got your start in real estate? There was no Universal Studios, no Downtown Disney, no Millenia Mall … only a small stretch of International Drive. And, Sand Lake Road was all orange groves. You've done a tremendous amount of work in the retail and restaurant development sector. Is the I-Drive 360 project, with its focus on entertainment, a different undertaking for you?
Well, we have built a lot of lifestyle centers, so it does fall in tune with the other projects, but this is the first one that’s had a ride, an attraction. Your latest development, I-Drive 360 opening this month, will have a 400-foot observation wheel, an aquarium, Madame Tussauds wax museum, various shops and restaurants ... what other cities have this kind of offering?
Maybe Las Vegas and certain markets in California, but Orlando is really set apart from other destinations in the world. Orlando is a world-class tourist destination and also a convention destination so it’s the right place for a project of this magnitude. So why International Drive?
I bought the property in 2004, and we sat on it for a number of years, not really knowing what we were going to do with it. We just knew it was a great piece of property near Sand Lake Road. Today, with the I-Drive shops [at the Wyndham Orlando Resort], the Vue at 360 [formerly Kings Plaza on International Drive], and all the developments, it’s the perfect time. The I-Drive 360 is a great fit around visitors’ itineraries for the theme parks. They can visit our attraction the day they check in or the day they check out. What do you like most about Orlando?
Orlando is absolutely a great place to live, work and play. It’s great for raising kids, great for entertainment. We can go to the I-Drive area and the Sand Lake area and have dinner and drinks without having to drive too far. With everything that Universal and Disney are doing, and with what we’re doing on I-Drive and on Universal Drive, it’s going to continue to become a great place. Crime is very low. And I always tell people, the temperature here in Orlando is great nine months a year and good for the other three in the summer.