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Floridays names Longboat Key hotel project

Building a hotel on the Key’s north end is rife with obstacles. But Floridays Project Manager James Brearley sees an opportunity worth the effort.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. August 3, 2016
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Opponents of Floridays Development Co.’s proposed north-end hotel say it’s not financially feasible. That it’s out of character with the neighborhood. That it will only add to traffic woes on the island.

Floridays Project Manager James Brearley has heard these concerns and more.

It isn’t the first time Brearley has faced pushback over a project.

Take the Oxford Exchange in Tampa, a boutique retail center completed in 2012 that’s based out of two buildings constructed in 1925 and 1950.

For nearly a decade, the buildings’ exposed-brick interior sat vacant across the street from the University of Tampa. But today, the bustling retail center is home to a Warby Parker, Buddy Brew coffee shop and TeBella Tea Co., book store, home décor shop and vintage gift shop.

During the development process, he heard some concerns similar to those that residents, particularly those in the Longbeach Village, have expressed.

“You could tell people were looking at it saying, ‘we’re not sure you know what you’re doing’,” Brearley said. “I kind of feel that with the north end.”

He also faced a series of bureaucratic hurdles: parking requirements, permitting and working within the Kennedy Boulevard Overlay District.

Still, as an Aug. 30 density referendum approaches that, if successful, could pave the way for a 120-unit hotel on 2.6 acres on the north end, Brearley admits that what he’s facing on Longboat Key is unique.

“We didn’t experience anything similar to the pushback we have received on the Longboat project,” Brearley said.


Combine the Old Florida style of the Postcard Inn in St. Petersburg, the Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande and the Surf Lodge in Montauk, N.Y. Blend them together with new construction, and you get the North End Hotel & Beach Club on Longboat Key. (See sidebar.)

If Floridays receives the approval of voters and, eventually, the Longboat Key Town Commission, the 120-room hotel will be constructed on Gulf of Mexico Drive. It’s slated to have cabanas, a saltwater pool and dining and events, according to marketing materials.

That’s the vision concocted by Brearley and Floridays CEO Angus Rogers and partner Steve Mullen.

Rogers and Mullen are developing the Hotel Sarasota that’s under construction on Palm Avenue. 

Rogers’ resume also includes projects such as the Floridays Resort near Disney, the iconic Grande Riviera on Golden Gate Point, along with rental properties and assisted-living facilities.

Mullen has a 30-year history of developing big-name hotels, including Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, Best Westerns, Ramadas, Howard Johnsons, Quality Inns and Park Inns.


But it’s Brearley, 37, who has become the face of the north-end hotel project. Though he’s not a full-time Floridays staffer, he is a principal with Mullen and Rogers in the north end project.

The Savannah, Ga.,  native who speaks with a Southern accent and enjoys yoga and tarpon fishing in his free time, began his career after graduating from Georgia Tech in the 2000s, working for real estate firm Weaver & Woodbery, which redeveloped portions of Midtown in Atlanta.

Jay Weaver, of Weaver & Woodbery, recalled Brearley’s ability to operate as a one-man team while putting a development together.

“Not to say that James doesn’t need help from others — he can just then lead them in a much more efficient way,” Weaver said.

Brearley moved to St. Petersburg in late 2006, then to Tampa two months later, and got into conservation banks, which are development projects aimed at protecting and enhancing environmentally sensitive lands to offset major infrastructure projects that could disrupt them.

The Oxford Exchange originally grew out of daydreaming sessions around 2010 between Brearley and Blake Casper, the CEO and chairman of the largest McDonald’s franchise company in the state, Caspers Co., who went on to become the developer of the Tampa project.

“We would compare growth stories of cool places — the Ashevilles, the Greenvilles, the Charlestons — and we’d say, ‘What can we provide as residents of the business community and as citizens of Tampa that would contribute to making Tampa a great place?’” said Brearley. “And the culmination of all of those thoughts landed us at the Oxford Exchange.”

“James was instrumental in getting the Oxford Exchange built,” said Casper. “He was integral in the whole process and really deserves a lot of the credit for why its such a success today.”

Now, Brearley, Rogers and Mullen hope to achieve similar success at the north end.

“All of our collective experiences in the past become incredibly important to that process,” Rogers said. “We bring that collective wisdom to this project.”

“There’s always going to be naysayers,” said Mullen. “But, I think there’s a lot of people on Longboat Key who would warmly receive this hotel.”

Rogers first met with Brearley in 2014, when a friend suggested the Oxford Exchange as a potential model for the food-and-beverage aspect of Hotel Sarasota.

Rogers, Brearley and Mullen honed in on the north end, believing that a hotel in the area made sense.

The island lost 146 hotel rooms when the Holiday Inn closed in 2003 to make way for the luxury Positano condominium. Five years later, recognizing the need for more hotel rooms on the Key, voters approved a referendum to create a bank of 250 tourism units that could be divided up among new developments.

Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties Ltd. received approval for 85 of those units for the new Zota Beach Resort that will replace the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort. But eight years after the referendum, 165 units remain available.

“We have an area that by most accounts needs a new vision — it needs a new life,” Brearley said. “By the time we started working on this, we really thought the story made sense.”

But Keep Longboat Special, a group that has organized to oppose the referendum, maintains the proposal will worsen traffic and that there are no guarantees the hotel will be as high-end as Floridays contends it will be.

The team has tweaked the architecture and amenities proposed for the North End Hotel & Beach Club at least once during the process. The firm mocked up a new rendering featuring a new style of design in April, after hearing resident feedback.

“Please take note that in spite of whatever the developer may represent now, the actual design of their hotel is a moving target and would not be formalized until well after the referendum,” wrote Keep Longboat Special Chairman Craig Walters in a June letter to residents. “We are essentially voting blind since we don’t know what we might get.”


Brearley has listened to these concerns during dozens of meetings with neighbors.

But he hopes that come Aug. 30, the majority of voters will cast ballots in favor of the project.

If voters approve the project, it’s just the beginning for Floridays. The referendum would allow the firm density of up to six units per acre on the vacant parcels — which amounts to about 15 units on the property. Floridays would then petition the Longboat Key Town Commission for the additional 105 units.

If the referendum passes, Floridays aims to have permits in place by summer 2017, with a grand opening slated for late 2018.

Brearley remains hopeful that if the project moves forward, it will become something residents can be proud of — regardless of whether they were originally for  it or against it.

“If you take the best things that were ever said by the residents about the Holiday Inn, once the turmoil of change has passed, they’re going to be saying those same things about the North End Hotel & Beach Project,” Brearley said.


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