The Changing Face of I-Drive
At Mango’s Tropical Cafe in Orlando, the double-decker stage show is stuffed with sequins, spangles and spandex for a music and dance review through the decades that often gets the dinner audience out of their seats, doing the samba beside their churrasco and chimichurri. The nightly dinner show is entertaining for the whole family, but the demographic changes at 11 p.m., when the tables are whisked away and Mango’s is transformed into a nightclub that pulsates until the wee hours of the morning.
Mango’s and the man behind it are changing the face of the city’s winding International Drive. Joshua Wallack had been coming to Orlando for Disney family vacations most of his life. Back in 2011, he came looking for something else: real estate to support his vision that I-Drive, Orlando’s key tourist corridor, might be just the place for a second location of his family’s wildly popular Mango’s Tropical Cafe, a staple of Miami’s Ocean Drive nightlife scene for 25 years. He found it in a former TGI Friday’s Front Row restaurant. The club opened a little less than two years ago.
Though Wallack and his father, Mango’s founder David, had staked their claim near the Sand Lake intersection with the nightclub in mind, it wasn’t long before the vision grew to a series of deals to include eight parcels for a total of $73 million that yielded more than 17 acres. Mango’s is phase one of a much bigger plan that may one day be recognized as shifting the needle on I-Drive, a plan that will culminate with the opening of the $590 million Skyplex Entertainment Complex theme-park project.
It is a far cry from the budget hotels, chain restaurants, minigolf courses and mom-and-pop attractions and gift shops that came to identify the city’s main tourism thoroughfare.
“We are reinventing International Drive,” said Joshua Wallack. “This is only the beginning of what millions of visitors and locals will now and in the coming year finally start to see is an incredible transformation making the intersection of I-Drive and Sand Lake Road the most popular, desirable and electrifying locale for entertainment in the country.”
The Wallacks are indeed just getting warmed up. Adjacent to Mango’s, they have begun work on the Hollywood Plaza Entertainment Complex. The bulk of that structure, on track for completion by year’s end, will be an 880-space parking garage, which will immediately make things easier for the growing crowds at Mango’s.
Once the parking garage is open, Mango’s will begin building a rooftop-level lounge that can accommodate 1,000 people and bring Mango’s square footage to 80,000. But the 14-story structure will also be home to three tenants “who each add to the experiential aspect of I-Drive,” said Wallack.
The fine dining Italian restaurant Circo, licensed from the Le Cirque brand, will be perched on the rooftop, offering stellar views of the theme parks and downtown Orlando. The Wallacks plan to deliver the space to Circo by year-end to begin their build-out.
Wallack has earmarked the ground level for two other tenants. One spot will house an as-yet-unnamed lounge. The other will be home to Hulk Hogan and his Hogan’s Beach Shop, selling clothing, wrestling souvenirs and memorabilia. The store will relocate from across the street, where Wallack has leased him a former 7-11 so Hogan could open his shop in time for fans attending Wrestlemania 33 at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium last spring.
Hogan’s shop in Hollywood Plaza will be significantly larger space. Joshua Wallack is a huge fan of Hogan’s and has a vision for the new space that may incorporate a simulator-type attraction. During a break at a recent autograph session at the shop, Hogan told Travel Weekly he became interested in the location “when we saw what Josh was doing at Mango’s and that he was so dialed in to my career. But when we met his dad, that sealed the deal. We thought for sure we could do well here.”
The Wallacks are also constructing a pedestrian bridge — part of the approved I-Drive 2040 Vision under Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs — that will take visitors from the Mango’s/Hollywood Complex area on the southwest corner to the the real centerpiece of their vision, the Skyplex Entertainment Complex, on the northeast corner.
The theme-park project will feature a 595-foot skyscraper tower to anchor multiple attractions, including the world’s tallest rollercoaster; SkyLedge, a tethered walk along the edge; a double zipline; an observation deck; a restaurant; and other amusements. A surf park will occupy the base along with shopping, dining and entertainment venues.
Construction on SkyPlex is expected to begin in 2018.