ST. PETE BEACH (FOX 13) - In a curious contrast, redevelopment of aging resort properties is about to start on St. Pete Beach, years after hundreds and hundreds of new upscale rooms and suites started sprouting on Clearwater Beach.
The building boom that benefitted the more northern destination was blocked in St. Pete Beach by more than a decade of lawsuits over the beach town's development regulations. The legal disputes were settled last May, and the Plaza Beach Resorts is the first to run the gauntlet of new rules.
"It's still not an easy process, no," general manager Robert Czyszczon told FOX 13 News, adding it could take four or five months to obtain city approval.
The process starts in a couple of weeks with a required public meeting.
"We want to bring the residents in, get their opinion, and get them involved," Czyszczon explained. "Let them know that it's going to be a great project, not an out-of-town developer that will be developing this; it's a local guy and I'm here and I plan on running the hotel afterwards as well."
Czyszczon shared a couple of images of what the new property would look like. It would have 66 luxury one- and two-bedroom suites, compared to the current 39 rooms. Rates would be at least double what they are now.
Down the street, the general manager of a comparable a property predicted, "the business is definitely there. We had an amazing season."
Tom Robertson manages the Hotel Zamora, which is not directly on the beach, and eluded the legal stalemate. The structure started as a condominium project that stalled in the Great Recession. A new owner completed the construction as a hotel property and in 2014, "...from what they say it is the first hotel to be opened on St Pete Beach in over 28 years," Robertson said.
The possibility of more upscale properties is not a concern. "The more nice, luxury-style hotels, I think the more press and business it will bring to the area," he said.
The Trade Winds Resorts, the largest hotel property in Pinellas County, is also in St. Pete Beach. A spokesman confirmed it is in the very early stages of redevelopment plans.
Clearwater Beach's successes have established the incentives. The county's tourism bureau is deliberately targeting upscale visitors, who spend more money on and off hotel properties.
Luxury hotels employ more people to cater to guests who demand more services. Higher room rates produce more "bed tax" revenue -- the additional five percent sales tax on rooms is expected to amount to more than $40 million this year.
That money is used to market the destination, subsidize events such as the St. Pete Grand Prix, and help pay for capital projects such as sports facilities.