It came down to two. One hotel concept would cater efficiently to a downtown business crowd; the other concept would provide tourists with a high-end, artsy place to stay. Both concepts could work — the latter won.
Thursday, June 7, a city committee unanimously chose Floridays Development Co. to build an independent boutique hotel on the site on North Palm Avenue at Cocoanut Avenue.
The concept chosen will provide competition for the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota and the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, because it targets guests seeking a top hotel destination.
The boutique concept beat out an Embassy Suites hotel project submitted by Jebco Ventures Inc. and the McKibbon Hotel Group.
Floridays President Angus Rogers, whose 432-room Floridays hotel in Orlando is now ranked the No. 1 hotel destination amid a slew of flag hotel chains, was pleased with the decision. Rogers has promised his hotel concept will quickly become one of Florida’s top 10 hotels to visit once it’s built.
“It feels wonderful to be selected,” Rogers said. “We are certainly excited we got selected and are ready to sink our teeth into this project.”
Locally, his company has built the Grande Riviera, where he lives on Golden Gate Point.
A Sarasota resident since 1993, Rogers said he’s looking forward to bringing a signature hotel to his home.
“We are all about exposing Sarasota to everyone else,” Rogers said. “I’m compelled to do something here locally that’s noteworthy, and I believe the city will embrace it as part of the fabric of downtown.”
Floridays proposes building a 180-room hotel on the site.
The company has agreed to pay $2.1 million for the hotel site. That price tag is the latest appraisal of the land; the previous appraisal price was $3.4 million. Floridays also agreed to abandon plans to finance the project through a credit-tenant lease at the Sarasota City Commission’s request that would have involved using the city’s credit rating to obtain a loan.
The selection process wasn’t easy for the committee, whose members got involved in a tense discussion involving company financials.
Hotel consultant William Nicholson, a principal of Heritage Capital Group, suggested the committee wait until it could look at the financial capacity of both companies, including balance sheet and income statements, but that statement frustrated some committee members and the hotel developers who have been waiting for a decision since November.
“It’s important for us to move,” said committee member and downtown economic development coordinator Randy Welker.
Committee member and senior city planner Steve Stancel said the committee must cover all of its bases before presenting a proposal to the commission.
Although both developers agreed to provide more detailed financials in the future, they told the committee it needed to make its selection first.
“If you’re looking for a checkbook that has $17 million in it, I don’t have it, pick Jebco,” said Rogers. “I bring capital partners into all my deals, but I need to be picked first to get my partners. I implore you to pick someone.”
Jebco Ventures Inc. President Jim Bridges agreed.
“You won’t find two groups that have any more credibility than the two of us,” Bridges said. “The biggest thing we can bring is a project commitment to a lender, but one of us has to have a contract with the city first.”
Nicholson called both companies “excellent, high-quality proposals.”
“Both concepts will work in Sarasota,” Nicholson said. “But they give you different approaches on how they would capture the downtown market.”
Nicholson explained the Floridays concept was “riskier” but attracted the “upper end of average daily room rates and could compete with the Ritz-Carlton and the Hyatt.”
“In terms of potential, the boutique hotel has an opportunity to employ more people in construction and in the daily operation and be synergistic with the downtown arts and entertainment district,” Nicholson said.
As far as the Embassy Suites concept, Nicholson called it “also successful with a high-end reservation system,” but he said it “wouldn’t attract the higher-end type of client.”
In the end, the committee’s three members all picked the Floridays concept, but they said it was a tough choice.
“I have to go with Floridays because of the bigger potential upside,” Stancel said. “I think you have to shoot for the moon here.”
“They are both excellent but serve two different purposes,” Welker said. “One is more weekend- and business-oriented, and the other is a unique boutique hotel. I wish we could have both.”
Welker implored city staff to move forward more quickly with the project, noting that it took the committee eight months to pick a developer.
A future agreement, to be reviewed by the Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board June 28, will now be developed with city staff and Floridays officials. The commission, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, will then review the agreement as early as July.
Rogers said it’s too soon to pinpoint a construction timeline for the hotel project until his company finalizes a development agreement and begins the design process. Rogers estimates it will take at least 14 to 16 months to construct the hotel.
“We feel confident in our ability to deliver the product that we have proposed to the city,” Rogers said. “The project is not without its challenges, but we have a track record of delivering quality projects and have the right team to build a hotel that downtown Sarasota will be proud of once it’s built.”
Update: Plans for the hotel project are in the works at City Hall and construction could begin on the later this year.