Inn could be torn down
Winter Park’s Best Western Mt. Vernon Inn could be on its way out if a land transaction with Unicorp National Developments Inc. closes out at the end of 2014.
Unicorp has the 65-year-old hotel under contract to make way for a new development, which includes plans for a new hotel in place of the Mt. Vernon Inn.
The deal won’t be closed until November of this year, but is likely to close as long as the city revises its building codes to allow more density, Mt. Vernon Inn Proprietor Rick Frazee said.
“It’s a happy/sad deal,” Frazee said.
“Things change. I’m 65. It’s about time I decide what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. The hotel is a very challenging, time-consuming operation.”
The Mt. Vernon Inn has come a long way since its start as a small, 36-room hotel in 1949.
The Frazee family took ownership of the hotel after purchasing it from the O’Leary family in 1962. They would later add the south section of rooms in 1971 and tear down the original 36 rooms of the hotel in 1981, making way for the north building which contains the current lobby and dining areas.
They finished renovating the rooms in the south section and around the pool area last year – just a fraction of the 147 rooms the hotel has today.
Quirky musical duo Mark Wayne and Lorna Lambey performed at the hotel’s Red Fox Lounge for more than 20 years, bringing their comedic, interactive act to the lounge for the first time in 1991. The pair became so popular that many believe they inspired a reoccurring Saturday Night Live skit featuring Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer.
“Mt. Vernon is a very important property,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “It’s been owned by a family that’s incredibly meaningful with a long history in our city.”
“I don’t know the circumstances behind the sale or anything at this point. As mayor, I’m very interested in knowing what may come.”
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said if the Mt. Vernon Inn closes, Winter Park would benefit from another quality hotel coming in to fill its place.
“The Mt. Vernon Inn has served that niche for a long time,” she said. “They’re really part of our community.”
“To develop another hotel there – if that’s what the family wants to do – we could not pick a better place, so I feel very good about that.”
The hotel’s location on U.S. Highway 17-92 has made it an entry point for Winter Park visitors for years, greeting tourists and helping them fall in love with the city of heritage and culture.
“It’s a gateway to our city,” Bradley said.
“It sits at an important corner and represents some very important things, so any future for it is critical to our city.”
Unicorp has yet to submit its plans for the new development to Winter Park city staff.