“We’re actually reducing the density of the project, and I think we’ve enhanced the project, but they're very minor changes,” Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall said.
The new proposal calls for Unicorp to reduce the number of residential units in the facility from 78 to 69 units. The plan also calls to increase the size of the remaining units.
“Since 2018, Unicorp has learned through its association with Marriott and luxury property marketers that size does matter,” Unicorp’s preliminary application reads. “After deciding on location, the size of a unit is a top priority for many luxury buyers. Since high-end buyers are looking for larger units, Unicorp would like to meet the demand.”
Also, Unicorp is requesting that 30 of the 69 residential units be authorized for use as either a residential unit or a tourism unit at the discretion of the owner.
The town had already approved previous versions of Unicorp’s plan in March 2018.
“The St. Regis Hotel approved in 2018 cannot accommodate groups of more than 6 members in a large suite or adjoining suites,” the application states. “Instead, some family members would be required to split up into different rooms and ‘walk the halls’ to join other family members.”
Other proposed changes include:
Allowing up to 30 residential units be rented out at the option of the owner for periods of fewer than 30 days, which was an exception allowed under the Colony ownership
Add a rooftop bar to the beach grill
Add an event pavilion for hosting dinners and small group celebrations
Relocate the Tiki bar closer to the beach (to be named the “Monkey Bar” in recognition of former Colony owner Dr. Murray "Murf" Klauber)
Add beach shade shelters and two fire pits to the beach
The development still plans to have 166 hotel rooms for a total of 235 units.
“The list looks long and intimidating because the Town staff does not have the authority to approve the most minuscule changes, even if they are consistent with the Town Codes,” the application states. “Instead, even small change (e.g., moving the parking podium by .53°) requires a public hearing.
“Hopefully, when the reviews and discussions begin, we can focus on the important changes that will ensure the long-term success of the St. Regis Hotel and Residences.”
Town Manager Tom Harmer met with Whittall on March 5 to discuss the proposed changes. Harmer also wrote in an email to town commissioners that Unicorp’s new proposals will require public hearings with the Town Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board.
It’s unclear how soon those hearings could happen because Unicorp is still in the process of revising its application for the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department to review.
Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons said Unicorp is working with Brenda Patten of the real estate law firm Berlin Patten Ebling.
Patten is expected to submit an updated version of the applications to the town, so plans could change yet again before either the Town Commission or Planning and Zoning Board can hear the new proposals at public hearings.
While Unicorp will own the property at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, the Marriott & Co. will manage it under the St. Regis banner.
The proposed changes also include a special exception request to address the addition of certain rooftop features above the previously approved height.
Specifically, Whittall said the height exception is for an elevator shaft and decorative parapets to hide air conditioning equipment.
“As a matter of fact, I know there is nothing controversial,” Whittall said. “Unfortunately, the development process in Longboat Key, they make you get a site plan approval completely before you draw your buildings. Well, what happens a lot of times when you draw your buildings, it changes the site plan a little bit, and so there’s just a little site plan changes.”
Whittall said it took Unicorp two years to complete the $5 million drawings. He said if the Town Commission and P&Z Board approve the proposed changes, he expects construction to start by July.
“Everything we’ve done is to enhance the building and make it prettier,” Whittall said. “Like I said, we’ve reduced our density from what we were approved, and we did all that to make it more architecturally pleasing, so I’m hoping they support it.”
The new proposal also would reduce parking from 457 spaces to 432 spaces. It still exceeds the minimum requirement of 406 spaces.
On Feb. 26, Unicorp closed on the settlement agreement to dissolve the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. A special warranty deed shows Unicorp agreed to pay $18,745,321 for the units.
“It’s a big milestone,” Whittall said. “We own 100% of the property now, which was a requirement for us to get building permits.”
The termination of the condominium association brings to a close years of litigation as Unicorp worked to consolidate its ownership of the once-tony resort popular with tennis stars, celebrities and Longboat Key residents.
The 17.6-acre site has been empty since the last building was demolished in November 2018 following a determination from the town the abandoned buildings posed a hazard.
So far, Unicorp has sold 52% of its residential units. Whittall said it was Unicorp’s goal was to have 50% sold by the time construction started.
Units range from about 1,500 square feet to nearly 6,000 and from one bedroom, one-and-one-half baths to four bedrooms, five-and-one-half baths.
Unicorp continues to have conversations with buyers, and Whittall said he expects to sell out the project in the coming months.
“We have really two steps left [before construction starts],” Whittall said. “We need to get a building permit and we need to close our financing, and we have several lenders interested in doing the debt, and so we’re trying to choose which lender we’re going to go with.”
Unicorp’s plan is to have the resort open by Thanksgiving 2023.
Whittall said the hotel is designed to elicit a five-star ranking with amenities including:
An homage to the Colony’s famous Monkey Bar
A seafood and steak restaurant
The St. Regis grille
A beachside cafe
A saltwater lagoon with rays swimming freely
A daily sabering of Champagne in the lobby, a St. Regis hotel tradition