A posh hotel spanning a city block could soon be rising near Rollins College after the Winter Park City Commission voted unanimously to allow the college and developers to move forward with plans for the 112-room Alfond Inn.
The 100,000-square-foot hotel could potentially serve as both a potential four-star stopover for visitors to Winter Park as well as a new nighttime lounge just east of Park Avenue. It would also help raise funds for scholarships for Rollins students.
Representatives from Rollins and Baker Barrios Architects pled their case at the Sept. 26 Commission meeting, lobbying for approval to move forward with the project. Rollins President Lewis Duncan said he expected the hotel to add to the long history of the landmark college.
“We’ve been here 125 years,” Duncan said. “We’re not looking to flip it. We’re looking forward to the next 125 years.”
Attorney Rebecca Wilson, representing the school, said that the hotel would be open for all visitors in the area.
“There’s some confusion that this would be just for Rollins,” Wilson said. “Let me assure you that we’ll take reservations with anyone.
“This is not being built by a developer. This is being built by a college that has 125 years of tradition in this city. I think we’re very fortunate to have a partnership with them on this.”
But the reception at the Sept. 26 Commission meeting wasn’t all warm for the potential economic boon.
Rick Frazee, who owns and operates Best Western Mt. Vernon Inn in Winter Park, said that the Alfond Inn could threaten his business if it opens as a three-diamond or three-star hotel.
“I’m asking that they accept a AAA 4-diamond rating and agree to meet it,” he said. “A three-diamond rating will greatly impact my market. It will compete directly head to head with me.”
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper cautioned the Commission to not get too excited about the hotel, which hadn’t yet gotten the OK for its parking plan, which would borrow space from as many as three parking lots from local businesses and a church in order to fulfill the hotel’s guest capacity.
“If you’d given me an Alfond Inn T-shirt, I’d be sitting in it, but we do have a process for this,” Cooper said. “We’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve very excited, but we haven’t really vetted a parking plan. The plan is at the moment, by code, inadequate.”
Cooper agreed with Frazee, saying that the Alfond Inn should be a four-star hotel to avoid competing with the Mt. Vernon Inn.
Wilson said that if the hotel had to conform to a four- or five-star rating, it might be needlessly expensive to run.
“The rating you’re chasing … it diverts funds that could be better spent toward scholarships,” Wilson said. “There are some ridiculous things we could be chasing like … the valet knows your name and they know your estimated time of arrival, or the phone can only ring three times for you setting up your wake-up call before somebody picks up the phone.
This is going to be built, maintained and operated at a very high standard. Chasing different star ratings doesn’t add much to this.”
Among the city’s staff, the hotel had backers pushing for it to become a reality, ratings aside. Planning director Jeff Briggs said that it could help lead more visitors and more money to Winter Park.
“Nothing’s going to help the downtown more than a steady stream of hotel visitors coming to downtown,” Briggs said.