The once bustling hotel was a first stop for many in during the 60's to 80's, but had fallen into disrepair during past 30 years.
By Jacob Engels
For almost five years, serial entrepreneur Micah Bass has had dreams of renovating and reinventing International Drive's Howard Johnson motel, which at one time was one of the most popular lodging options available along Central Florida's busiest roadways.
Earlier this summer, his management team finally took over the hotel and began extensive renovations. The once iconic property was the place that many people stayed at when first visiting the Orlando area during the late sixties and into the mid eighties. The several hundred room establishment once overlooked a much smaller I-4, and received high marks from travel magazines and agencies.
Newly redesigned reception area.
However, since the mid 1980's, the property had been in a slow and steady decline, struggling to compete with the rise of well financed resorts and lodging options ferried in by the advent of Disneyworld, followed soon after by Universal and a host of other attractions in the growing tourist district. By the late nineties, the Howard Johnson, which had been a go-to for many Northerners and out-of-state visitors for decades, suffered from poor management and fell into disrepair.
Bass, who had been to the property when he was growing up, said that he felt like Central Florida was in need of a refreshing new option for travelers in the tourist district.
"International Drive has a lot of the similar, efficiency options. This particular Howard Johnson used to stand apart from the crowd. Unfortunately though, after the 80's, it was just part of the crowd. When I purchased the property in 2010, we began brainstorming and figuring out how to utilize the current structure's strengths, while bringing it into the 21st century," Bass told the East Orlando Post.
Ironically enough, Bass and his team ultimately decided to embrace a "modern retro chic", that featured stained concrete, brushed nickel, and minimalist fixtures in the rooms. The renovations started in June of 2015, when Bass's team officially took the reigns. Instead of building a whole new pool, they elected to keep the original, which at one point had featured a diving board.
The privacy fence helps guests feel more relaxed.
"We erected a privacy fence and redid the landscaping, while refinishing the deck and updated the patio furniture. It's really deep."
Chadwick Hardee, who has held high-level positions with the Waldorf Astoria, Ritz Carlton and several other high end resorts and hotels told the East Orlando Post that he is very impressed with the transformation that has occurred since Bass took over. Hardee current serves as the Vice President for Business Development and Government Relations of APDC Services, a staffing and logistics company that serves high profile clients like Westgate Resorts. He also recently founded The Couture Soap Company, which provides hotels with luxurious lotions and soaps.
"The M is just what International Drive needs. While still maintaining an affordable price-point, Micah and his team have masterfully renovated not only the rooms, but the pool as well. The new nightclub Revere, is really a lot of fun from a design standpoint."
A section of the "purple room" that Bass says will eventually feature drag performances.
Bass and his attorney Barry Miller, who is the registered agent of BP Investments, which owns the hotel, is working hard to bill "The M" as International Drive's only LGBT focused and friendly resort.
"Millions of LGBT travelers and tourists visit this area each year and we believe their is a significantly undeserved market to reach" explained Miller, who as long served as Bass's attorney and business partner. Miller, is a prominent Central Florida lawyer and staple of Orlando's increasingly powerful LGBT population.
The main bar area inside, supported by a poolside bar on the patio.
In addition to renovating the rooms, reception area, and other common spaces on the property... Bass has shifted the old cafeteria into a multi-layered LGBT nightclub. According to an article in the state's preeminent LGBT publication, Watermark, the club which is named Revere, had a soft-opening during the month of November.
Crowd starting to build right after opening at 8pm.
A grand opening was held on Friday, and featured DJ's and several items of entertainment "never before seen" in this area according to Bass. The East Orlando Post attended the grand opening, and we were extremely impressed with the top-notch service, classy design, and well-trained staff.
"It has been a longtime since an LGBT nightclub and resort have opened in Orlando. There has not been an LGBT nightclub in the tourist sector for close to a decade. It was packed and everyone had a lot of fun," Bass observed of the grand opening.
Revere has received praise from Don Granastein, who owns Parliament House, and will likely be one of Bass's top competitors. "I wish them good luck," Granastein told the Orlando Sentinel.
Anthony Cortes, who runs the popular Trend Studios in Downtown Orlando and Winter Park, said Orlando is ready for something new. He went with several close friends and members of his salon staff.
Cortes with his Trend Studios staff at Revere's grand opening on December 4th.
"We were excited and Revere did not disappoint!"
Bass, who says he’s been friendly with and worked with members of the LGBT community through his entire career, says it took just a few months to renovate and ready the club for customers. The 7,500 square foot space features a 2,500 square foot dance floor, a VIP room with male dancers and showers, a purple theater room with plans for a stage that will hold drag performers and a walk-out to a pool bar and beach area, with a tiki bar in the works, according to Jamie Hyman's mid November article in Watermark.
"Our hope is that Revere will draw in a lot of tourists and locals who will fall in love with our re-imagining of the Howard Johnson and come back to enjoy the bar and stay at The M."
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org