OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - A new project could transform a struggling part of Osceola County into a tourism mecca that generates hundreds of jobs on Disney's doorstep.
A developer spent $1.7 million for a prime location, 20 minutes from Disney, on U.S. Route 192.
Australian businessman Peter Sharma said he spent a year traveling the United States, looking for the right investment. Sharma chose a spot in Kissimmee.
"The moment I saw this place, I fell in love with it," said Sharma.
Sharma bought two foreclosed properties. Capone's Dinner Theater will stay where it is, for now. But Sharma said Beef 'O' Brady's could soon move into an old bar next door.
A hotel on the property is in for some major renovation, Sharma said.
air-conditioning system is being upgraded. New tile will be installed. New furniture will be brought in. Even the smallest fixtures will be replaced. Every room will be gutted and modernized, according to Sharma.
It's a transformation that Osceola leaders said is opening a big door for the troubled corridor.
According to county leaders, they intend to use Sharmel's property to apply for a federal grant that makes millions available to help modernize properties.
If the grant is approved, every business along the
15-mile stretch of 192 will be eligible for the money, officials said.
"It focuses on a lot of older
corridors where properties and businesses are closed. (The money) helps them reopen and provide jobs in the community," said Hector Lizasuain, 192 project manager.
Sharma's plan is to aggressively market vacation packages in Australia and New Zealand.
WFTV reporter Nancy Alvarez checked and learned that more than 230,000 tourists from there visited Florida in 2011. Sharma said he is determined to lure them to central Florida.
"I don't have to sell Orlando. I just have to make it easier for them to come. Package the flights, the rooms, free drinks, free food -- Who wouldn't come?" said Sharma.
County officials said investors buying more than one property will bring bigger, more profitable projects to the area.
Sharma said he hopes to have his properties up and running by July.