I-Drive's megamall project iSquare just took one in the iPants

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PHOTO VIA ISQUARE
  • Photo via iSquare
The current plaza where the iSquare mega-mall development is planned - ORLANDO MUNICIPAL PLANNING BOARD
  • Orlando Municipal Planning Board
  • The current plaza where the iSquare mega-mall development is planned
After years of inaction on the hotly anticipated I-Drive megamall project, it now looks like the strip mall at the corner of International Drive and Kirkman Road may be foreclosed upon.

Built in the mid-1980s, the strip plaza was purchased in 2007 by local developer Abdul Mathin. He announced the megamall and hotel project iSquare more than four years ago, but no real construction has begun on the site.

A few preliminary tests of the site were made soon after the project was first announced nearly half a decade ago, but has fallen into a bit of a limbo, with large swaths of it sitting empty – though in recent months new tenants have moved in, like Boot Barn, which moved from the nearby failed "art mall" Artegon.

iSquare was one of the first significant investments announced for the northern section of I-Drive since Festival Bay, later known as Artegon, which was built in 2003. Initially, the large hotel and retail development called for a single tower with 749 rooms; then it was scaled down to 539 rooms across two towers with two separate hotel flags. Mathin wowed many with his plans for the luxury development which included a rotating restaurant that would be open 24/7, a helipad that guests could use, and an ice skating rink where the ice would be dyed black. But from the very beginning, there was a shadow of doubt around the project which smacked of the pre-recession decadence that caused many local developers to go belly-up come 2008.

As iSquare’s planning moved along at a snail’s pace, showy details began to be dropped from the project, including the ice skating rink and a live-performance theater. The 23-story, dual-tower development retained a small retail area in the base, but despite many calling it a "megamall’" it was better understood as two luxury hotels with a small indoor retail complex on the bottom four floors. Only 435,000 square feet were devoted to retail (roughly 27,000 square feet more retail than the nearby Pointe Orlando). For comparison, the Mall at Millenia is approximately 1,118,000 square feet. This isn’t a megamall by any means, but the nickname stuck after the developers used it to market the mixed-use development.

The primary focus at iSquare was the two hotels. A Capella hotel would have around 100 rooms and be ultra-high-end, with what developers called “Seven Star Amenities” including rooftop infinity pools and the helipad for guest use. The other, much larger hotel would carry the Solis flag. Meeting rooms and office space fill out the 400-foot-tall mixed-use development while a seven-story parking garage ensured plenty of parking.

ORLANDO MUNICIPAL PLANNING BOARD
  • Orlando Municipal Planning Board
But now it looks like the dated strip plaza that sits on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in Central Florida is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Mathin has faced two foreclosure lawsuits in the past five months, including one in which the filer requested the court to appoint a receiver to take control of the iSquare property. Now International Shoppes LLC, the company with which Mathin was developing iSquare, has filed paperwork seeking a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The paperwork shows more than $10 million in debts spread between 10 different creditors.

After news broke of the bankruptcy iSquare took to social media for the first time since mid-October to reassure everyone that the project was still in the works. In a post shared on both their Twitter and Facebook iSquare stated that "Nothing Ever Comes EASY!"

This isn’t the first time the ambitious project has run into trouble. In mid-2014 the website for the luxury development was caught using photos from other projects, including stock photos and photos taken from other websites without permission. The website no longer has those images, but it does still have a dated, homemade look to it not typical of a luxury development.

While many view this latest blow as the death knell for the project, for now, all indications point to the developers attempting to use the Chapter 11 filing as a way to free up some debt as they seek new investors. This "megamall" just might be the zombie, never-really-dead sister project to the I-4 Eyesore in Altamonte, but at least this project isn’t as visible from the interstate. 
ORLANDO MUNICIPAL PLANNING BOARD
  • Orlando Municipal Planning Board



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