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Kid-oriented hotel with water park to rise from remains of original I-Drive lodging in Orlando

The Legacy Grand Hotel, an eyesore for years in the heart of Orlando's tourist corridor, is finally getting a face-lift.

The 393-room hotel at 7400 International Drive will become CoCo Key Water Resort, an island-themed water-park hotel catering to young children. It will feature eight water slides and five pools, and offer everything from face painting to hula-hoop contests to win the hearts of pint-sized guests.

"The property will be geared totally to the amusement of 4- to 11-year-olds," said Frank Fry, the general manager. "It's just going to be a fun place."

The hotel, with large interior courtyard and frontage on Interstate 4, was one of the first lodgings to rise on International Drive. It was built nearly four decades ago, just north of Sand Lake Road, by Finley Hamilton, an Orlando lawyer-turned-developer looking to profit from the opening of Walt Disney World. Along with his partners and others, Hamilton started the land rush near Disney World and created the road he would later name International Drive.

The aging I-Drive property hasn't fared well of late, however. It changed hands multiple times during the past decade, eventually closing while continuing to deteriorate. It was bought by its current owners, Orlando-based CNL Lifestyle Properties, for $19 million in May 2008.

"It went into some terrible disrepair," Fry said. "We almost rebuilt the whole place." The renovations are far from complete, but after 15 months of work, Fry is hopeful the hotel will meet its March 25 opening date.

For Orlando, CoCo Key adds "another interesting aspect for our destination, particularly for the leisure traveler," said Richard Maladecki, president of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association.

Despite the building's age, Maladecki said, its location could give CoCo Key a strategic advantage. The water park, which will be partially under a canopy and partially open to the sky, will be located toward the rear of the property, alongside an interstate highway full of potential customers.

"They'll see that big slide and they'll see that water park," Maladecki said. "If they do it right, … they will have the attention of the I-4 motorist."

A partnership of CNL Lifestyle Properties, Wave Development LLC of Milwaukee, and Sage Hospitality LLC of Denver, the hotel is one in a chain of CoCo Key Water Resorts with locations in seven states. The resorts sell day passes to nonguests who want only to use the water park; in Orlando, day passes will cost $12. Rooms are expected to range from $99 to $139 a night.

Sara K. Clarke can be reached at skclarke@orlandosentinel.com.

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