Hilton Hotels Reports Waldorf-Astoria Orlando Golf Resort Project Ahead of Schedule

| By Scott Kauffman | December 3, 2008 8:11 AM ET

(ORLANDO, FL) - The largest project in the history of Hilton Hotels Corporation - the 1,500-room Bonnet Creek resort now under construction - is moving along very well and on track to open Oct. 1, 2009, Hilton executives said today at a special behind-the-scenes media event.

The 482-acre Bonnet Creek development, surrounded on three sides by the sprawling Walt Disney World resort, is comprised of the 497-room Waldorf-Astoria Orlando, 1,000-room Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, an 18-hole golf course designed by renowned architect Rees Jones and 150,000-square-feet of meeting space that connects the two hotels.

The pristine-looking golf course is already completed and ready for play; meanwhile, the two hotels have all their elevators, escalators and electrical components installed with flooring coming next. The feverish pace of construction is going so well, Bonnet Creek director of marketing Tom Parke says the resort could actually be ready for delivery in April.

These are clear signs that despite the sluggish state of the global economy, and tourism in general, Hilton is having no delays at Orlando's newest upscale golf resort development.

"We're accelerating our pace (of construction) and the opening," says Parke, whose resort will employ approximately 1,500 people. "When we open, this will not be a soft open. ... Are we happy we're under construction now? Yeah.  Are we happy we'll be opening in 10 months? Yeah.

"Our owners are giddy happy about the way things are going. We're 15 percent ahead of plan. What's happening on Wall Street is not happening here."

Indeed, Hilton's Bonnet Creek project is one of just two hotel projects scheduled to open in 2009 that still remains actively under construction east of the Mississippi, according to Parke. The other project is the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando hotel being built just 15 minutes away in the Orange County/Orlando Convention Center tourist district.  

During the private tour of Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and Hilton's first new Waldorf-Astoria, a select group of local business leaders and journalists got a glimpse of the meeting space that features end-to-end views of the golf course and Hilton's one-million-gallon lazy river pool complex. The tour also showcased the area where several well-known Waldorf Astoria elements will soon be found, including the familiar Bull & Bear Steakhouse and Oscar's restaurants, the Peacock Alley bar and the signature Cartier clock in the lobby. Other amenities planned for the resort is a Guerlain-branded spa and separate formal pool with chic private cabanas and poolside butlers.

Parke, who oversees marketing for the entire Bonnet Creek resort, is particularly excited about opening Hilton's first Waldorf-Astoria outside of the famed New York City landmark.

"October 1, 2009, will be a historic day for the Waldorf-Astoria brand," says Parke. "We look forward to welcoming our first guests in Orlando on the very same day New York's venerable Waldorf Astoria opened her doors in 1932."

To say Hilton is committed to the Orlando market is an understatement, considering the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company already owns 27 properties in operation here, representing eight brands and more than 9,000 rooms. Overall, the publicly traded hospitality company owns more than 3,000 hotels worldwide with 500,000 rooms in 74 countries.

Parke is undaunted with the task of helping build Hilton's project of them all and redefining Orlando's luxury resort market.

"Look at where we're at and the vision that Walt Disney had," Parke told the Real Estate Channel. "Some might have even said 40 years ago it was crazy vision. We have that same enthusiasm and crazy vision - some might say - in building the largest development in Hilton history.

"The customer senses the authenticity we have. We're not just going through the motions building another big hotel and we're not taking the easy route. Our owners are very conservative and we don't spend hundreds of millions of dollars without expectations. But we took the attitude early that we want this to be something special."

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