International Drive looks to get live

John Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments Inc., met with county business leaders Thursday afternoon at the Orange County Convention Center for a community meeting to discuss the proposed land use for the expected I-Drive Live complex.

Unicorp National Development Inc., which owns the land that will be used to develop I-Drive Live, is expecting the Orange County Board of Commissions to vote in favor of the project sometime later in August.

“Our financing is 100 percent done and approved,” said John Whittall. “I think we’re going to help International Drive. We seen hotel prices drop, and I think our investment will bring all that loss back.”

I-Drive Live will feature a Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussaud Wax Museum and the Orlando Eye, which will be a 450-foot ferris wheel similar to the London Eye in England. The Eye is expected to bring in two to four million visitors per year once the proposed plan receives a go-ahead from the county commission.

Higher end restaurants, retail space and hotels are expected to be part of the development phases.

Merlin Development, who will own the Orlando Eye, will privately fund the $70 million project, but will seek corporate sponsorship, which is something that didn’t bring light to several International Drive Business leaders.

“How are we sure that this project isn’t going to make the backside of I-Drive businesses look like the forbidden backyard to tourist?” said Wanda Tyson, 44, who works for Wyndham Hotels.

Many businesses that reside on Pointe Orlando brought up the angle of whether the project will meet county codes, since the Orlando Eye will reach past the 428-foot Peabody Building.

“I’m excited for this plan,” said Jason Mistica, 33, who works at Westgate Resorts. “I believe it will only bring in more business into International Drive, which is good for me and many that work around here.”

“When people come to Disney, they plan to stay in Disney property,” said Unicorp president John Whittall to reporters after the meeting. “The same goes for Universal and Sea-World. I just want to put International Drive back in the argument.”

Final voting for the plan will be announced later in August, in which Unicorp hopes to get the go-ahead for the project.

“Everyone who comes to Orlando is now going to have an iconic structure right in your backyard,” said Whittall. “To think that everybody in this room won’t benefit from that; we believe everybody will.”