Step inside the former OUC headquarters on South Orange Avenue, and you might never know that this 1960s-era building is where many Orlandoans once went to pay their electric bills.
It is now the newly opened Aloft hotel, home to 118 rooms, a chic lobby bar and a grab-and-go eatery. A swimming pool reminiscent of South Beach sits off the front entrance.
Still, remnants of the home of Orlando's utility remain: the marble walls, the terrazzo floors and the teak paneling that once graced the offices where executives oversaw water and electricity service for four decades. OUC moved to a new headquarters nearby in 2008.
The Aloft is Orlando's latest example of "adaptive reuse," a form of development that gives new purpose to old buildings. It's a trend taking hold in Central Florida and across the United States, said Shelley Lauten, program director with the Urban Land Institute.
"It's a great strategy – the adaptive reuse – for some of our older corridors," Lauten said. "It saves development costs, and it really gets all of us thinking about old in a very new way."
For GDC Properties, the company that developed the Aloft hotel, there were both challenges and benefits to working with an old building. The company had to spend months removing asbestos, and most of the interior had to be gutted. But after the renovation, Aloft's hotel rooms inherited the building's 10-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows.
"OUC took good care of the building, and in many ways it was frozen in time: 1960s furniture and décor – right out of 'Mad Men.' We loved it," said Will Ingraham, president of GDC. "We had to dismantle the building's interior completely as part of our gut renovation. We saved the key architectural features, such as teak paneling and marble walls."
Ingraham would not disclose the cost of the renovations, but said it was comparable to building a new hotel.
The downtown location is the first in Central Florida for Aloft, a hotel brand that is part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. The Orlando hotel plans to target business travelers, capitalizing on its location near City Hall and downtown office buildings. Rates will start at $159 a night.
Aloft is just one several recent adaptive-reuse projects taking place locally. East End Market on Corrine Drive, which debuted last week, turned a shuttered church into a gourmet market with independent vendors. Nearby, Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour has found its home in a converted air-conditioner repair shop, also on Corrine. Elements of the proposed downtown Creative Village also will feature adaptive reuse, Lauten said.
Dean Grandin, planning director for the city of Orlando, said such projects help keep the identity of a place intact. He said the former OUC building, with its modernist design, represents a "period in our architectural evolution." The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"In Orlando, it's been here long enough to establish itself as sort of an historic icon," he said.
Back at Aloft, the hotel has incorporated a few nods to its history, giving its meeting rooms names that incorporate electrical terms. And current OUC workers can wander over to their former home after work for one of the lobby bar's signature drinks: the Megawatt Margarita or the Kilowatt Mojito.
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