Parliament Progress

Reprinted from Watermark, January 6-19, 2000

Parliament Progress

Orlando is abuzz over changes to the city’s most high-profile gay property – and they’ve just begun.

By Ken Kundis

ORLANDO – After a series of false starts and failed promises over the past five years, it seems that the promised refurb of the storied Parliament House is moving forward at lightening pace.

According to Donald Granatstein, who heads up Parliament Partners, the organization that has purchased the 25-year-old gay resort, the speed of the improvements has surprised even him.

“We put a deadline of December 31 on the changes to the exterior, the courtyard and the entertainment complex, but even I didn’t think we would make that deadline. Much to my astonishment, we have, and everything looks beautiful. It doesn’t look like the same place,” Granatstein said. “People have been coming from all over and just can’t believe it. They have been very thankful for the changes we’ve made here. It’s been gratifying.”

Granatstein credits his wife, Susan Unger, for the efficient and marked changes. “Susan does everything. She’s the decorator, manager, and contractor. She’s done an amazing job,” he said.

The most noteworthy visible difference is the glass brick wall that sits at the front of the new courtyard, where pool and room side parking used to be.

The result behind the wall is a lush, tropical courtyard with a new state-of-the-art stage, lights and sound system. Changes to the lakeside area have also been completed with a new beach area, lounge chairs, gazebo and swing.

An artist’s rendering of The Gardens – a planned timeshare resort next to the Parliament House

The remodeling was finished just in time to host Blow Out ‘99, the PH’s New Year’s Eve mega-fete. Rumors circulated for weeks that the fabulous Miss P would make her New Year’s entrance by helicopter, and she didn’t disappoint. Wearing a sequined green pants suit — “very Peter Pan” — P was lowered from the helicopter over Rock Lake, then “flew” to the Parliament House courtyard where she was lowered to the ground as an estimated crowd of 1200 cheered.

“It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she told Watermark. “Everyone said that you couldn’t even see my makeup for the huge smile on my face. It was actually terror, and then glee.”

The helicopter whipped up a heavy wind over the newly relandscaped Parliament House, sending dirt and mulch flying everywhere, and creating a huge New Year’s hair disaster. But when the dust cleared, P had changed into a stunning yellow gown and was serenading the adoring throng with “If You Believe” from The Wiz.

Miss P (back center) and the colorful cast of entertainers at the Parliament House

P said the entire spectacle occurred without a hitch, and right on time. “We practiced five or six times at the Sanford Airport. I had it cold.”

Saturday night recording artist Kim English, who sings the dance anthem “Unspeakable Joy”, performed for large crowds in the new Le Club.

All of this activity has pushed renovation of the sleeping rooms back until early 2000. According to Granatstein, the reason is a common one when remodeling an old property.

“We would tear down walls and find that the plumbing and wiring were substandard, so that is why it is taking longer. But when they are finished the rooms will be beautiful,” he said.

Parliament Partners plans on modernizing the rooms, with card key entry, tiled floors and in-room safes. Despite this, the room rates will increase only marginally, from $52 to $59 per night.

Workers hurry to finish landscaping prior to the Parliament House’s “Blow Out ’99” New Year’s Eve bash

Granatstein also points to non-physical changes at the PH that have improved the atmosphere. When interviewed by Watermark several months ago, Granatstein said that alfresco cruising— known locally as “Balcony Bingo”— would no longer be allowed in the hallways of the motor lodge.

Security was stationed strategically throughout the complex, and those on the balconies were required to have a room key or to be accompanied by a paying guest.

However, recent reports have indicated that the balcony cruising that has so identified the PH for the last decade persists. Granatstein said that it was never the intention of the Parliament Partners to “cramp peoples’ style.”

“The cruising is part of the scene, and we wouldn’t want to eliminate that. We simply wanted to get the hustlers out of the property, and we’ve successfully done that. Once we saw that those people weren’t coming any more, we relaxed the guards and the balcony cruising. There is a long list of people who are permanently banned from the premises. We don’t like that, but it was necessary in this case,” Granatstein said. The result has been a less dangerous atmosphere.

“We haven’t had a single criminal incident there since we started our renovations. And it is my belief that people will see our beautiful courtyard and pool area and lakeside area and come down off the balconies and talk to one another, instead of just looking at one another,” Granatstein said.

Also moving along more quickly than expected are the plans to convert the Carolina Moon trailer park into a timeshare community, called The Gardens. Granatstein reports that more than 50 percent of the trailers have been bought out, which is ahead of schedule. Because of zoning limitations by the city, a retail strip planned for the area now occupied by the Carolina Moon Motel is now being grouped together with the development of the Gardens.

Parliament Partners’ Don Granatstein: “Eventually, I believe that it will all be one glorious resort.”

“We hope to break ground on The Gardens in June, but certainly by October,” Granatstein said. October is the date given to all residents of the trailer park as the date by which they must be out. While many have been receptive to selling their trailers (Parliament Partners owns the land itself), others have been predictably resistant.

“Naturally, not everyone is embracing the concept, but we have been working with them and offering them between $500 and $3000 per structure, which we feel is very fair. I believe that we will come to an agreement with everyone,” he said.

It has been quite a bit more difficult to come to an agreement with the owners of the land and building which hold the Full Moon Saloon. Helen Bean, who owns the land and structure, is asking far above market value for the land, according to Granatstein.

“I do think that eventually it will happen,” Granatstein said. “I’m a natural optimist. But it will take some time. Eventually, I believe that it will all be one glorious resort and a real service to the (Orlando gay) community. That is our vision,” he said.

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