The old Mercado tourist center was for years the dean of International Drive, Orlando’s world famous tourist strip.
I remember visiting the Mercado. The first time I learned of the Titanic was at the Titanic Exhibition museum. I remember hitting up the nightclubs at the Mercado. I had a friend of mine work at the 24-hour Goodings grocery store near there. For those who are too young (or has a short attention span) the Mercado was one of the most visited shopping and entertainment venues on I-Drive. It was home to the aforementioned Titanic museum, The Guinness World Records Experience and the Hard Rock Vault. It seemed like the Mercado’s future was bright.
Until another, more modern shopping and entertainment district open its doors right down the street from the Mercado.
As soon as Pointe Orlando opened its neon flashy doors in 1997, it lured away many of the Mercado’s prime tenants. As Pointe Orlando was gaining new life, the Mercado was dying a slow death. The Titanic Exhibition moved to a new spot near the corner of I-Drive and Sand Lake Road. The Guinness museum and Hard Rock Vault both closed its doors and in 2007 the Mercado itself closed its doors. But the landlords, Orlando based Unicorp National Developments, had a brand new vision for the old Mercado site, and in 2013, that vision would be a reality.
The new “I-Drive Live” is in a sense, the Mercado 2.0, as the tenant mix will be very similar to the old Mercado. Orange County commissioners approved the new shopping and entertainment complex in 2011, hoping that the new I-Drive live and “I-Shops”, which will be adjacent to I-Drive Live, will bring new life to a tourist strip that is teetering on the edge of mediocrity. With Downtown Disney and Universal Orlando’s City Walk continually adding more and cutting edge entertainment and dining options, International Drive has been left in the dust. But I-Drive Live is aiming to bring those tourists back.
For I-Drive Live to be competitive with the theme parks entertainment districts, Unicorp teamed up with world renowned amusement operator Merlin Entertainments, the creator of LEGOLAND Florida, to bring three world class amusement centers to I-Drive Live. The Sea Life Caverns is a aquarium complex that will focus on the ecosystem of the Florida Keys. Madame Tussauds Wax Museum will bring world famous celebrities to Central Florida, in wax form of course. But the centerpiece of the complex will be the 425 foot tall “Orlando Eye” an exact replica of the world famous “London Eye”. It will afford the opportunities for guest to see the Orlando landscape, from downtown’s glittering skyline to Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World.
Looking at the drawings for I-Drive Live, you can’t help but feel some excitement for the project. The one thing I do hate about the project however is its list of restaurants that will occupy the center. Standard chain restaurants will dominate the center, from Outback to Buffalo Wild Wings. I wished the landowners would had persuaded other chains to move in to the complex instead of chains that already have a heavy presence on I-Drive.
But regardless of the quality of the restaurants, there is a lot to be excited about for I-Drive Live. Coupled with Fun Spot Action Parks expansion that will bring two new rollercoasters and a water park to the fun park and the new “Destination Orlando” high-end outlets project to replace the failing Festival Bay Mall on the north end of I-Drive and the street suddenly has the mojo to get it’s groove back. Whether the new I-Dive Live complex can help it achieve that is yet to be seen.
But from what we see now, the future is again bright for I-Drive.