New name, details emerge for I-Drive wheel attraction

By Sare K. Clarke, Orlando Sentinel 7:16 PM EDT, August 21, 2011 
Once it's built, you may walk to it, you may drive to it, but one thing's for sure: "It" won't be called I-Walk Orlando.
Developers of an International Drive tourist complex anchored by a giant observation wheel have settled their legal differences with Universal Orlando over the new attraction's original name, which Universal thought was too similar to its CityWalk entertainment district.
The new name: I-Drive Live.
The $100 million project, on the former Mercado property north of the Orange County Convention Center and south of Sand Lake Road, will feature the Orlando Eye, an observation wheel similar to the London Eye.
The 425-foot-high wheel will be flanked by a Madame Tussauds wax museum and a Sea Life aquarium, according to plans submitted recently to Orange County government. All three attractions will be operated by Merlin Entertainments Group, the British company that is also developing Legoland Florida in Winter Haven.
Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments Inc., part-owner of the development, said his Orlando company is still talking with Orlando-based Ripley Entertainment Inc. about including Ripley's newest concept, an attraction built around Guinness World Records.
"We are absolutely going in the direction of a world-class project," said Whittall, whose company is partnering with Circle Entertainment Inc. of New York. "We do believe it's going to be the game changer on I-Drive."
I-Drive Live has the approval of the county's development-review committee, subject to certain conditions. Located in the heart of the International Drive tourist district, on a parcel already zoned for commercial development, the project likely faces little opposition.
Whittall said the developers have made some progress attracting additional tenants, though no leases have been signed. The company has signed letters of intent with a steak restaurant, an Italian eatery, a Key West style-seafood restaurant, a country-and-western bar, an ice-cream store and a wine bar, he said.
"We are having robust success with leasing, and we have many, many, many tenants in negotiations," he said.
The development is on 19 acres about a mile north of the convention center. The site, once home to the Mercado shopping-and-dining complex, has been vacant for years; the Mercado was torn down in 2007 to make way for a new project that never materialized.
According to the plans submitted to Orange County, the first phase of I-Drive Live will include the Orlando Eye, the aquarium and the wax museum, as well as some retail and restaurant space. Future phases would include more commercial space, a tourist-information center, a parking garage and two hotels. Whittall said the hotels would be themed, such as those in Las Vegas. or 407-420-5664