For the past 25 years, Robbie McEwan has been omnipresent in metro Orlando’s tourism-related commercial real estate market. He’s recorded more than $1 billion in property sales there during that time, and if McEwan hasn’t “seen it all,” he hasn’t missed much.
According to McEwan, first vice president of Orlando-based CBRE Land Services, the final large parcel of available, developable land near Universal Orlando Resort is now gone. And for good measure, there isn’t much remaining around the Walt Disney World Resort, either.
That’s because in late February CBRE Land Services arranged three major land transactions, totaling $165.9 million and including a $130 million, 473-acre acquisition by Comcast Corp. — the single largest land transaction ever in the Central Florida tourist region. Orlando-based CBRE Land Services made the sale for Los Angeles-based Colony Capital.
CBRE also arranged the sale of a 51-acre mixed-use lakefront development adjacent to Lake Bryan in the Disney tourist corridor and the sale of a 49.7-acre parcel directly across Interstate 4 from the new Disney Springs development. The Lake Bryan property was acquired by Porto Orlando LLC, an Egyptian entity, for $12.9 million. The Walt Disney World-adjacent land was acquired by Great Wolf Resorts Inc. from Garrison Investment Group of New York for $23 million.
The big news, though, came from Comcast/Universal, which snapped up the land this fast, says McEwan, who has been a part of Orlando’s commercial real estate scene since 1974 as a lender, developer, broker and appraiser.
“In this kind of market, there are lots of money and lots of buyers. And you’ll actually get people that will step in and stop the marketing process [on a property] and just close, especially if it’s a competitive situation,” he comments. “Universal did not want anyone else to buy that property.
“It was the last one left; that’s why they paid $130 [million] for it.”
Not coincidentally, Universal Orlando is expected to utilize the property for future expansion of its existing theme park resort. Even before the deal was closed, Universal reportedly had consultants looking at the land for possible theme park and water park sites.
According to McEwan, the transactions validate an improved economic picture for Central Florida. The Orlando/Kissimmee/Sanford Metropolitan Statistical Area is on pace for nearly 8 percent growth during the next five years. Orlando also welcomed a U.S. record of more than 62 million visitors in 2015, and ranks as the second largest hotel market and largest timeshare market in the U.S.
In addition, the transactions serve as proof that commercial real estate is alive and well across the region. While signs of a market rebound emerged in 2013 and gained momentum in 2014, last year left little doubt about recovery. Financial markets were willing to lend, opening the door to land development, McEwan explains.
He points to the acquisition by Great Wolf Resorts, with plans for a family resort consisting of 650-plus rooms. Great Wolf Resorts Inc. is the parent company of Great Wolf Lodge, North America’s largest family of indoor water park resorts. “Through the recession, you could never sell a property like that, because Great Wolf could never get financing to build something like that,” he notes.
For land developers, he offers this advice: Move quickly on tourism land … or turn your attention to Lake Nona, the next hotbed. Regarding worthy parcels of land near Disney extending to the Osceola County line, McEwan concludes: “There’s not plenty. We are running out.”