Tahitian Inn sold for $9.7 million to Tampa real estate company

A long-standing Tampa hotel that has undergone numerous changes is about to exchange hands once again.

For 70 years, it's been a Tampa landmark, a place to relax, to see and be seen, and, on occasion, stir up a little excitement. The Tahitian Inn, which started as the Tahiti Motor Court, has gone through its share of changes.  

This week brings one more change. It was just sold to a local real estate company that plans to keep it up and running, with some upgrades. Despite being surrounded by properties being demolished and rebuilt from the ground up, this inn, which began in the Golden Age, is surviving.

In the 1950s, sunseekers escaped the bitter winter cold at Tampa's south Pacific-themed Tahiti Motor Court.

"People were really fascinated with the Pacific Ocean. And we just fought a war in the Pacific," shared Rodney Kite-Powell with the Tampa Bay History Center.

Postcard from the Tahiti Motor Inn.

A postcard from the Tahiti Motor Court that was sent by a woman named Florence in 1959.

Kite-Powell shared a postcard from Tahiti Motor Court that was mailed in 1959 by a woman named "Florence." She sent it to a friend back in Indiana. A stamp, at the time, cost just three cents.

"Boy, I go for this life of relaxing, sunbathing, golfing and even breakfast in bed," the message reads. "Nice to be wearing summer clothes in December. Gets cool in the evenings, though."

READ: Local author writes books about the history of Tampa's mafias

Joe Pupello opened Tahiti Motor Court at 601 South Dale Mabry in 1953. It boasted air conditioning - a big draw at the time.

"The idea of motor courts really picked up after World War II," Kite-Powell explained. "You know, everybody was getting in their cars and driving around the country. There was the explosion of the middle class and the idea of vacations, and particularly driving vacations."

The Tahitian Inn opened 70 years ago as a motor court inn.

The Tahitian Inn, which started as the Tahiti Motor Court, has gone through its share of changes.

It expanded in 1961, becoming the Tahitian Inn with 42 rooms and a popular coffee shop.

"There are a lot of stories about Tampa's very colorful organized crime figures meeting there, particularly the coffee shop," Kite-Powell said.

By 2000, following a few rounds of renovations, the original motor court section was torn down and built into what we know today. In 2018, the coffee shop was taken over by Pach's Place.

READ: ‘From Earth to the Moon’: Tampa was site of fictional moon shot nearly 160 years ago

For seven decades, it stayed under family ownership, even surviving bankruptcy. Now, they are passing the tiki torch. Tampa investment company Om Ventures bought the inn for nearly $9.7 million, according to a deed filed Monday with the Hillsborough County Clerk's Office.

Outside of the Tahitian Inn.

The Tahitian Inn has been sold for $9.7 million to a Tampa real estate company.

Om Ventures' owner Dharma Malempati tells us that the hotel will remain the Tahitian Inn. Pach's Place will stay, too. They're looking to make renovations and upgrades over the next year or so but did not offer specifics just yet.

We did reach out to the Tahitian Inn to hear what led to the decision to sell but we did not hear back.

"Places like the Tahitian Inn are kind of defying the odds," Kite-Powell explained, "but it's also maybe a little bit of an indication of the economy and where we are as a city and where we are in development where not everything has to be, you know, bigger and better. Those smaller boutique hotels have a niche just like the big brands do. So, I think the Tahitian Inn fits that model."

At a time when, often, the old is knocked down to make way for the new, and postcards are simply Instagram posts, this little South Seas oasis along a busy highway remains.