Location's the thing for ChampionsGate project

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n real estate, the formula for success is location, location, location. ChampionsGate, central Florida's newest destination golf resort, claims to have it.

The $800 million, master-planned ChampionsGate community is being built on 1,200 acres located five miles from Walt Disney World Resort's western border and southwest of Interstate 4 and the site of the area's proposed western beltway.

ChampionsGate's site, in effect, extends the southwest entranceway to central Florida's tourist corridor one exit closer to Tampa as the project opens in phases.

Two golf courses and a related David Leadbetter Golf Academy already are open.

Work is under way on the $150 million, 732-room Omni Orlando Resort, the first phase of 4,136 hotel rooms planned.

The Omni is scheduled to be completed in late 2002 and will represent a return to Orlando for the brand.

Omni lost its Orlando franchise last summer when hotelier Harris Rosen decided to take the former Omni Rosen independent, renaming it the Rosen Centre.

The $50 million spent on golf facilities and infrastructure already in place at ChampionsGate encompass two golf courses with radically different designs, both crafted by Australian golfer Greg Norman.

During groundbreaking ceremonies for the 16-story hotel, Omni president Jim Caldwell said that it will cater to incentive and other groups.

"We expect to be at about 80% group business the first year," he said.

"Of course, we'll take more leisure business if we can get it," he added.

The Omni will offer 70,000 square feet of meetings space, including 26,000- and 20,000-square-foot ballrooms and 37 meetings rooms.

It also will have six restaurants, a 10,000-square-foot spa and two pools.

ChampionsGate was 13 years in development, according to senior vice president

Ira Mitzner of RIDA Development Corp., the project's Houston-based developer.

RIDA Development Corp. is in negotiations with other hotel companies, ranging from moderate-priced to upscale chains such as Four Seasons, for the complex.

Some 1,600 apartment and time-share vacation villas are planned, with Omni possibly getting into that side of the business.

"While [time-shares are] not our core focus -- all of our competitors are doing it, and it is time we took a look at it," said Caldwell.

A decision is expected by year's end.

The villas would function to accommodate the overflow from the hotel during peak season and special events, and the hotel's restaurant and recreation amenities would be available for villa guests.

If demand warrants it, a third golf course is expected in two years.

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