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 a firm loan approval“. Frost spoke to LakeWalesNews.Net shortly after learning that the Lake Wales City Commission will be considering filing a lawsuit to try to regain ownership of the property.

Frost’s Buena Vista Hospitality Group is the same organization that completed the renovation of the Terrace Hotel in downtown Lakeland more than 30 years ago. This similar size hotel is now part of the Hilton Tapestry Collection.

Frost’s group has developed or managed dozens of properties not just in Florida but around the world. In 1980 the BVHG received the right to develop the Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa, the first new hotel to be built on Disney property since it opened. Her track record since that time has been impressive. In addition to the USA, you also have branches in England, Italy and Brazil and have been committed to the Walesbilt project since 2019.

“If it hadn’t been for Covid, we would probably have made good progress with the construction,” said Frost, citing the reluctance of lenders after the pandemic hit the hotel industry particularly hard.

“We help on the financial side,” said Frost in a long phone conversation. “Not so much direct financing, but the trust that our more than 40 years of experience gives the lender. This project won’t knock the ceiling financially, “he added,” but it should make money. “Frost said BVHG is acting as the owner’s representative during construction, including handling furniture, furnishings, equipment and everything related to construction and construction to equip a hotel, he said.

The 1926 Walesbilt Hotel has long been an icon of downtown Lake Wales. The city’s community redevelopment agency is preparing to pour millions into renovating streets, sidewalks, and landscaping, including on two sides of the hotel. In the long term, the construction of a multi-storey car park is also planned, from which the hotel could also benefit.

The city’s frustration with Brown’s longstanding ownership of the building is evident in discussions among commissioners, and many citizens agree and want the project to move forward. Frost says market conditions are to blame, but that’s changing.

“The market is seeing a renewed appetite from lenders,” he said, mostly from non-traditional private lenders rather than banks. A confidential letter from such a lender, viewed by LakeWalesNews.Net, indicated that they expected to close the hotel’s funding “early 2022,” a timeline that is in line with Frost’s forecast.

Frost said Preferred Hotels and Resorts included them in the Walesbilt deal. Preferred is a global marketing association that represents high-end hotels. It has been in operation for more than 50 years and boasts of booking over $ 1 billion in reservations annually.

The portrayal of an impending completion of the long search for capital to complete the project could influence discussion at Tuesday’s city commission meeting. Mayor Eugene Fultz also spoke to LakeWalesNews.Net over the weekend, making it clear that if he doesn’t want to go to court, he must step forward and show that he has the funding and support from his partners. the schedule of what they propose. “

Brown has complained that a planned November meeting to present such information was canceled at short notice by the city. City Manager James Slaton blamed the rejection of 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 relevant city officials.

The renovation of the hotel had long been on the wish list of a number of city guides, but the project remained without major funding for ten years. It is hoped that a renovated hotel will be the centerpiece of the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency’s large road construction project.

Frost stressed that the Walesbilt can be part of this process. “We are committed to helping them through the development process and operating it once it is complete,” he said.

Photo courtesy of the Buena Vista Hospitality Group

Michael H. Frost, President of Buena Vista Hospitality Group, Inc., called for patience as the Walesbilt Hotel was redeveloped and said success was finally within reach. Buena Vista supports and manages the construction project and operates the finished hotel. The city commission will deal with the matter on Tuesday.

BVHG’s current projects include companies such as the California Marriott Autograph Collection Hollywood Park and the Cortona Golf and Spa Resort in Cortona, Italy, where they offer services for the construction, opening and operation of a luxury golf and spa resort with 72 Units will provide. This project includes a Gary Player Signature golf course that has 9 holes completed and the remaining 9 holes yet to be built.

“Our business is the development and operation of hospitality businesses,” said Frost. “We have taken on existing projects (like the Cortona project), but our main business works through the development process.”

Frost acknowledged that a lawsuit by the city at this point would be a serious setback and complicate the funding process.

“If you throw Brown away with the rinse water when he’s this close, what will it be in two or three years?” asked Frost. “Ray (Brown) has a great architect (Rick Gonzalez, a historic preservation expert). He thinks beyond finances and really enjoys the monument preservation aspect. This will be a gold star for Lake Wales, ”he added.

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