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Vinik hotel near Forum could add to Tampa allure

Published:   |   Updated: January 17, 2014 at 07:27 PM

TAMPA — A possible new hotel next to the Forum by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik could help Tampa lure more big conventions, and even Super Bowls, hoteliers said this week.

But, they’re counting on Vinik doing more with his downtown Tampa land holdings than just building a hotel. Without some other new entertainment complex or stadium to drive downtown tourism, a big new hotel would eat into everybody’s hotel business, said Ron McAnaugh, new general manager of the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel.

“Typically, we would need something to increase demand to offset the supply,” McAnaugh said. “Otherwise, we would be reslicing the pie.”

This week, the Tribune uncovered a diagram showing a proposed hotel at the corner of Old Water Street and Florida Avenue, land owned by a Vinik business entity. It’s directly north of the Marriott Waterside and just west of the Forum.

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett this week wouldn’t say if Vinik is planning a hotel or something else on the Old Water Street property. However, Wickett would say the team is considering filing a rezoning application on the land, which would allow Vinik to go above its current height restriction.

Few people were surprised this week that a hotel might go there. It’s next to the Forum and close to the Tampa Convention Center and two convention-oriented hotels, the Marriott Waterside and Embassy Suites, so it’s natural to put another there. Meantime, Vinik and his partners have been spending millions over the last two years to buy up land surrounding the Forum and now own 21 acres.

Everyone expects Vinik to do something major on his land, and whatever it is, it will generate overnight visitors, said Christine Burdick, president of a downtown business association called the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Another hotel within walking distance of the convention center would help Tampa compete for conventions against the likes of the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee. That giant resort offers 1,406 rooms under one roof, said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association.

At the moment, the Tampa Convention Center area has around 1,300 rooms within walking distance: more than 700 at the Marriott Waterside and around 300 each at the Embassy Suites and the Westin Tampa Harbour Island, Morrison said.

Add another few hundred hotel rooms with a Vinik hotel and more convention planners will start looking at Tampa, he said.

“So now all of a sudden, it positions our market in a little stronger posture when we begin to answer those standard questions that every convention planner asks,” Morrison said.

Still, a new surge in hotel rooms in downtown is bound to eat into everybody’s business unless Tampa can lure more overnight business. Downtown hotels were a bit more full last year, with nightly occupancy rising to 65.5 percent occupancy in 2013 from 64.1 percent in 2012. But, the average daily room rate fell to $90.71 last year from $93.02 in 2012, according to Smith Travel Research.

Meantime, hotel developers are planning two new hotels in downtown Tampa, the 130-room Aloft hotel on the Hillsborough River and the 110-room Le Meridien inside the old federal courthouse. Nearby, the Epicurean boutique hotel in Hyde Park just opened with 140 rooms.

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