Meet The Orlando Native Who’s Shaping Our City

All right so I just got done Interviewing Chuck Whittle who is the Owner and founder of unicorp if you've Seen the Orlando Eye you've seen Old Town West you've seen a lot of Developments around here he's actually The fabric of what's coming to so much Here in Orlando so stay tuned to this Interview as we dive into his past what Do you think's coming to Orlando and so Much more [Music] So Chuck thanks for joining us Absolutely good to be here man so I was Going to do research I was looking back Through articles and people you've Worked with in the past and one thing That popped up over and over again was Chuck closes deals like you start Something and that's what you're known For What does that make you how's it make You feel You know I sit on the kick tip over There I wrote a book called perseverance And uh You know we perform on what we go after We build uh Cash we've got 30 projects at a time Going on and uh when you say closed Deals we probably close 50 deals a year even if we're only Building 30 we're also building them we Sell we buy we sell so we we generally

Have a closing almost every single week That's amazing yeah When we look back at I think last year When I say 50 I think last year we Closed 72 deals so and this year we'll Do more with everything kind of going on Like people talk recession people talk Ups and downs it's a very weird market And you've been in the game for a long Time how does this feel with what's Going on right now well the one thing I've learned is you always play to the Market uh there's always a market it's a Good Market a bad Market but there's People always doing business in the Market and uh you know it's a tougher Time right now to do business interest Rates are high but uh doesn't mean you Stop doing business you're just Strategically playing you know like Right now we're planning on starting a Bunch of projects toward the end of the Year that we'll deliver in 2025 because We think 2025 is going to be a more Interest rate friendly environment and We think there will be more demand for Product because there's a lot of people Who've slowed down right now because of The rates so we're just strategically Planning for 2025 and Now's the Time to Kind of get into these deals with Everybody else is maybe scared a little Bit yeah we bought a bunch of land we've Been going through entitlements and

Getting it ready to break ground on so We've we've got a lot of projects that Will be starting in the next several Months and we're finishing a lot of Projects that we've been working on for The last year and a half no it's amazing Do you remember your first development Yeah my first development was in Winter Park Florida Across from the Winter Park Village I Brett Hutchins ended up he bought the Old Winter Park Mall to redevelop it and When I heard he was buying the mall he Told me about it I thought well shoot I Better buy some stuff across the street From it and Brett always tells people Chuck made more money off the Winter Park Village than I did because I went And bought all the pieces across the Street and my first one I did was a Small 8 500 square foot development with Starbucks Singular Wireless 1-800 Flowers and we kept it for gosh a decade And a half before we sold it yeah and And I did an Ecker drugstore across the Street at the same time and you know Those were my first Retail developments I started as a I had A stucco drywall company before that a Home Building Company before that a Stucco drywall company before that so I've been in the construction business Since I was 18 years old at this point And dad was a was a firefighter yeah my

Dad was uh chief of Orlando Fire Department dispatch wow and so he was a Fireman and I I was born you know people Say you know why Winter Park uh or Central Florida I was born and raised in Winter Park and I've been here all my Life and you know geographically I feel Like we're lucky because Central Florida Is such a great place for growth we have A thousand people a week moving to this To Orange County and a thousand people a Day moving to the State of Florida yeah So it's you know and I always say that The business we're in as we cater to Growth you know we provide shopping we Provide grocery stores we provide Apartments we provide hotels we provide Restaurants we provide the the growing You know pop population yeah so I Noticed um speaking of that housing is a Big one I mean with a thousand people Moving to Orange County a week so I saw Some of the ways you're pushing maybe Like luxury apartments which some Developers say luxury and that just Means like it's got vinyl plank floors But like you're actually building really Nice higher end Apartments tell me about That yeah we're doing all sorts of Luxury things uh uh at our otown project We have a clubhouse we went over the top We built a 15 million dollar Clubhouse With a gym that is as good as anything 24-Hour Fitness or LA Fitness would have

We've got a three meal a day restaurant We have room service you can sit out by The pool you can order a cocktail or a Sandwich we've got a steam room we've Got a virtual reality room we've got a Sauna we've got a massage room we've got Pool tables you know the apartments are Beautiful there's the swimming pool is I Don't think I've ever seen a larger Swimming pool in an apartment complex Anywhere in the nation it's amazing We're doing another one up the street Called the Lux where we're doing real Wood floors not vinyl floors we've got Wine coolers in them marble in the Bathrooms it's it's just it's what you'd Expect to find at a nice five-star hotel Yeah and so obviously you've got a great Forethought we've proven this now and so That you think the demand for Central Florida luxury apartments is is there And will continue to grow it is uh you Know we've got right now just in Central Florida 1200 unit Center construction and per Each apartment complex we're leasing two Or three units a day so they they are Filling up very quickly yeah talk to me About what you're seeing in maybe the Job market I know the job you're our job Creator and the development side but um You know we've got tourism out our back Door but things are starting to change And you're an Orlando kid right so you

Grew up here how have things changed and Maybe where do you see us going in terms Of a job market here Um the job market I think is still very Strong here everybody's having a problem Hiring people because I think there's a Lack of workers but which means Everybody's working which for us it's Good because everybody can pay rent and They can afford to go out to dinner We've seen wages go up you know Josh or You used to think that an apartment Dweller would you know make 30 40 50 000 A year we have our average apartment Complex I think the average household Income is over 130 000 a year wow so you Know it's just a different lifestyle to Live it's it's maintenance free and You've got a nice Clubhouse you've got a Swimming pool you don't have to worry About taking care of yards and things Like that so we're finding a different Demographic it's not necessarily a Starter place for people it's it's it's Just a lifestyle convenience and able to Travel not worry about you know their Their home so so we try to make it a Home and make it a place where people Want to stay that's huge I'm sure last Turnover that way better quality tenants And it's just for you as a developer Makes a ton of sense a lot less start Over yeah so let's talk maybe about Different areas of town right what's

Going on I'd love to start maybe Downtown because I don't know if you Don't have anything going on in the Business Tech trick right now we don't Have anything downtown Orlando it seems Like heart it's hard to get going I Don't know what it is yeah there's been So much built downtown you know we had An opportunity to do a few things there And we didn't do them but we've been Busy in Lake Mary Winter Park uh this Side of town Southwest Lake Nona we've Got a project in Sarasota we're building We're one of the largest Wawa developers In the country and Wawa we're their Preferred developer in the Ohio Valley Will probably build 50 Wawas there this Year in Ohio Valley between Kentucky Ohio Indiana and Tennessee and so we're Busy up there we've got a big project in Michigan you know we're building our Hotel on the beach in Sarasota along the Key St Regis yeah it looks beautiful We're sold out we've got 600 people Working there a day we will be finished In July open next year that's incredible We're excited about that that's super Cool 13 years really 13-year project in Your project can you talk about that Deal how does that something like it Coming Um you know when my daughter was little Um We would go to Longboat Key and I

Thought you know I'd like to build Something there where you know I could Go build sand castles with her and play And uh try to buy one piece of property Somebody else bought it I wasn't able to Get it and then the colony which was the First condo hotel in the State of Florida Closed and I kept driving by and I Thought let me try to buy this and it Was a triple bankruptcy dozens and Dozens and dozens of lawsuits and I Thought that'd be a good idea to get Involved Myself up where I was told to take two Years to settle all the litigation that Took 10 years to settle litigation and so I Finally acquired all the property and it Had every luxury flag wanted to be there And we settled on the St Regis and so One day I'll be able to build sand Castles with my grandkids it took a Little bit longer than you wanted but It's a great project it was the first Kind of hotel in the State of Florida And we did the First Judicial condo Determination ever in the State of Florida that's how we were able to Finally resolve all the litigation on it And get free clearance uh title to the Property to be able to build it so we're 70 done with it right now that's so Exciting congratulations thank you so

Icon Park and I drive there's a lot of Stuff coming with epic universe and now That I saw the W Hotel got announced and Then the tallest tallest hotel in Orlando is going to be over there it Seems like they're seeing a bit of Resurgence what do you think about that Tourism Corridor and what's going on you Know um when I bought Mercado Mercado Was one of the first outdoor shopping Malls in the country and it went into Failure gosh 2000 five I think I bought it Um I started to believe it's been almost 20 years but uh it went into bankruptcy And I bought it from the bank and Everybody thought oh you're going to Rehab it I said no we're going to Bulldoze it but you know we had 20 acres Right on International Drive an International Drive at the time I don't Know how long you've been around but it Was in Decline there were you know kids Driving cars up and down the street Police issues down there and stuff like That and uh I just thought it was a good Opportunity and so you know we came up With the idea to put the wheel there and So we did Um you know the the big ferris wheel and Made an entertainment complex and it Really did rebirth I drive it just Changed I drive completely and and then Universal comes in uh years later

Obviously now they're under construction And new hotels and it's just changed the Whole area yeah so it's been pretty cool Yeah it's really cool I remember I've Only lived here for seven years but Before that it was like coming for Conferences and people were like you Don't really want to walk too far up That road you know like because it was And now it's it's packed there's Everything again there's just tons of People there and I feel like that's Maybe what we need a little bit more of Is that outdoor lifestyle and I feel Like that's what you you do really well They're not strip malls they're like Outdoor spaces that people can live work And that's what we're doing we're Building one in uh Fort Myers Estero We're building 100 Acre outdoor Entertainment Lifestyle Center where We're going to have an outdoor roller Rink we're doing outdoor pickleball Shuffleboard Food Truck Park and same Thing with the Fashion Square we built The Fashion Square mall and we bought That right before covid but yeah we put It on hold because of covet but now We're in the middle of getting deep on The plants and you know we want to make An outdoor Lifestyle Center and yeah Everybody likes dining outside sitting On the patios like I said the pickleball The outdoor roller skating rinks and

Things like that are popular they're Good for Community dog parks and and Yeah so that's the lifestyle Trend now Which has migrated away from retail you Know the retail we do is I always say You you leave with a haircut or you Leave with a full belly or you know Where people go they drink they eat they Get their hair done they exercise They're not trying really walking out With a bag of goods and you know that's All taken care of for the most part Today and online and uh yeah the the Malls the luxury brands are all doing Well like at Millennium Mall and things Like that so uh but the smaller Um the retail stores just are not you Know flourishing like they used to be Yeah let's go maybe a mindset shift if We could around around covet so covet Happens you've got all these Developments you're retail heavy got all This kind of stuff what is what is that What's Chuck thinking through 2020 like At this point I mean how do you make it Through and not only make it through but You're thriving well uh you know at the Time when we got shut down everybody got Shut down you know I realized how Devastating it was going to be to my Tenants uh luckily we made a couple big Sales months before that happened we Sold a few hundred million dollars for The property and you know we were

Prepared Um to go through a storm but um Yeah I went to my tenants I gave them All three months free rent I helped them Out I knew they couldn't survive and I Didn't think it was good letting all the Tenants go out of business and go gee What am I going to do I was better off To help him and uh you know the mayor Appointed me chairman of the reopening Committee and so I was the chairman over Gosh Disney Universal Sea World Advent Health all these big companies that we Were doing these big you know Zoom calls With and you know we made the decision Uh collectively as a board to reopen Business in Central Florida which was as We look back in time was absolutely the Right thing to do because all the the States and counties that stayed closed Did not have any less cases than we did We just happened to be open and our Businesses didn't go broke and we were Able to survive So you know covet really didn't affect Us that much Um you know I was bothered by the lack Of uh you know like they use the term Social distancing we never should even Use the term social distancing it's a Negative term in itself but um you know It was disruptive that it desocialized People but uh as far as business you Know I don't think I lost any tenants I

Don't think anybody went out of business Over it everybody uh you know we helped Them out and they were able to survive And you know people wanted to go on Living and you know I remember you know Going to several different engagements Where people would say this is the new Norm and I would always say no this Isn't the new Norm it's the temporary Abnorm people don't want to live like That people want to socialize like we Just talked about the lifestyle centers People want to get together they want to Go out places they want to do things They want to socialize and and so I felt Comfortable that we would come back to Where we are today again yeah it makes a Lot of sense so what's next for Orlando Do you think I mean you've seen a big Change sure what where do you see us Going as a region well you know Orlando Was uh Is going to become much more Sophisticated I think you know with um The Nobu Hotel got announced and um and You mentioned the W well you know we're Doing the towel hotel and we're doing The Tao restaurant and we have some Other parts of Old Town that we haven't Announced yet that are equally as sexy Uh times two or three more coming in That will come you know be announced Soon Um I think like with what we're doing

Over there at Old Town with the Tao Hotel it's a sophisticated experience It's different than downtown like my Daughter will go downtown and and um in In the downtown is uh What we're creating is just a more Sophisticated experience and we're gonna Have some great restaurants and that's What we've lacked in Central FLorida is Is really great restaurants we've had Great chains yeah Yard House I've built A few of those they're great yeah we've Got different restaurants here Eddie V's Which is a wonderful restaurant but These unique restaurants that you find In New York and Chicago and La you know We've lacked those and we're getting Them now and I think it's going to Change the the face of Central Florida That's going to change the convention or We think our town hotel is going to play Very well to the conventioners we think The restaurant will and it will just Offer a more adult experience and not Just Disney yeah we're not just Disney We're not just Universal yeah it's a Great place to go and uh that is a great Place to live too of course yeah two More questions for you so Um I saw that you were talking about Maybe adding like a Vegas style Residency show at one time you had an Idea to do this you think that's Something that we're maybe going into or

Have it I would like I would like to see Us do that right behind the wheel I was Trying to acquire the property I was Getting close on it uh you know at the Time this is going way back uh when Michael Jackson was alive I wanted to Bring Michael Jackson here into a show And have a Michael Jackson show I Thought it would sell out every night You know Michael Jackson performing off International Drive and um you know I Thought that would just so a show like That like a Celine like a Michael Jackson like Britney did in Vegas and These different things I think would do Very well here I think the you know the Conventions are here and I think we have The market for it so I would like to see That happen We also you know one point looked at Trying to see if we could get an NFL Team here and uh you know have not been Successful with that but but I really Think central Florida is is ready for You know just that next level of Entertainment uh you know I go to the Bucks games and they're full and yeah we Certainly have the population here for That our soccer team is doing very well Here and yeah I would like to see that Um I I think it would be something great To offer conventioners I just think it's time yeah I mean Vegas Is getting it right so they've got all

These major sports teams going and They're a transient kind of area yeah We're way more stable and true you know With both of them I think we've got a Massive opportunity last question for You so developer philanthropist Billionaire father what does Chuck want To be known for when it's all said and Done Um you know I do what I do because I Like to do it I love doing what I do and I love giving back to the community you Know often people think oh you're just Doing to make money to be greedy it's Not I if I want to retire I'd go retire I don't want to do that I I like Creating I like uh mentoring people I Like helping the community out you know I was born and raised here it's been a Great place and you know Central Florida Has offered me a lot of opportunity but I just enjoy it I I love the the Creative Artistry aspect of of coming up With an idea and Designing it on paper and building it And getting it open you know for me That's that's like the day we open you Know I'm like down to the next one yeah And then yeah we turn it over to Operations and the company operates it But um you know for me the fun part is The creation of of the different things That we do and I enjoy it and I would Drive my wife and daughter nuts if I was

Home all the time and like my daughter Was a couple weeks ago I took a couple Days off and And I'm like I'm bored we got to do Something she's like Dad see you could Never retire you're bored in one day and Yeah that's I'm just I'm active and I Like doing things and I travel a lot and I don't know if you know but I raced Ferrari as well how did that come about Uh my wife was telling me um for her Entire marriage she's like you need to Get a hobby you need to get a hobby and Work's always been my hobby and um you Know I've always liked cars and I went To Vegas and I got my professional uh Emsa license and I thought you know I'm Gonna go compete and so I started I was Going to race with Lamborghini and Ferrari said hey we'd like you to come Race with us and I raced my first race In Atlanta which I'm actually racing Atlanta in two weeks and I finished top 10 in my first race and I thought this Is fun my wife's like why did you have To tell you you get a hobby why do you Have to get a hobby racing cars and some People golf I race Ferraris you know Yeah and uh I won Indianapolis last year The first race of the season this year In Homestead I placed third on day one And second on day two and I came out of The first race being the points leader For Ferrari and right now I'm number

Three because I had a bad weekend last Weekend my car wasn't performing Correctly but I just raced last weekend In Austin and um I'm racing 10 different Countries this year not 10 different Countries 10 different races uh half of Them in the U.S and then I'm racing Magello I'm racing Montreal and I'm Racing uh where else Racing Le Mans and France and I'm racing Spa Belgium oh man so I'm gonna have to Come and watch one day that sounds Awesome it's a lot of fun I bring some Of my friends out sometime and they Always say they have a blast oh my God I Mean yeah because I get them in the pits Let them sit in the race car and you Know have a full pit crew so it's Completely uh diametrically opposed to What I do every day I'm building Buildings through an Architects Engineers and all that stuff and then When I go to race we usually get there On a Wednesday and leave Sunday and Wednesday Thursday Friday practice race Saturday race Sunday and you know Getting a whole pit crew being around Cars being helmeted up strapped in a car And doing 180 miles an hour down the Straightaway so it's a fun thing yeah It's a great hobby oh amazing Chuck Thanks so much appreciate it thanks for The pleasure thank you [Music]

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