Madame Tussauds wax museum, observation wheel may open on I-Drive

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Merlin Entertainments Group, the company developing Legoland Florida in Winter Haven, said it is working with two other companies to bring some of its other attractions to the long-vacant Mercado property on International Drive.

Merlin said Wednesday it plans to bring at least three of its global attraction brands to Orlando, as part of a retail and entertainment complex called I-Walk Orlando. The attractions will include Madame Tussauds and The Orlando 'Eye' – a 425 foot high observation wheel. The third attraction is still under discussion, a spokesperson for the company said.

Merlin is working with Circle Entertainment Inc. of New York, and Orlando-based developer Unicorp on the project. Discussions are "well-advanced" according to the British attractions company. If an agreement is reached, the attractions will be a key part of the development, which is scheduled to open in 2013, Merlin said.

Merlin, the company behind the famed London Eye, said it will provide the global "Eye" brand to the project, as well as development and management expertise. The wheel itself would be owned by Circle Entertainment, which has licensed the technology from local ride developer Bill Kitchen of US Thrillrides.

"I-Walk Orlando is destined to be a 'must visit' destination for Orlando's millions of visitors," said Nick Varney, Merlin's chief executive officer. "With this project we believe Merlin, Unicorp and Circle Entertainment will be bringing an exceptional group of new attractions to what is undoubtedly the best and most exciting location for family entertainment anywhere in the world."

In an interview with the Sentinel earlier this year, Varney said he felt some of the company's smaller attractions would fit well in Central Florida.

"We do see Florida generally -- and Orlando specifically -- as a location where we would put some of these midway brands," said Varney in mid-January. "In particular, we're thinking of Madame Tussauds as an interesting proposition because, you know, it is a global brand that is the celebration of celebrity."

The Mercado property, located about a mile-and-a-half north of the Orange County Convention Center, has been vacant for years after the failed Mercado shopping-and-dining center was knocked down in 2007 to make way for a 350,000-square-foot complex of retail and restaurants. That project never got off the ground.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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