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Friday, Jan 18, 2019
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Plan to raze Fenway Hotel, build modern version is back

— A multimillion dollar plan to raze the historic Fenway Hotel and rebuild it in the same architectural style is back on track after a delay in the property sale killed the project last year.

Pennsylvania developer Christy Bower recently submitted new plans for the waterfront lodge on Edgewater Drive that show a hotel virtually identical to the rundown 1920s Mediterranean-style structure currently on the property. The remade Fenway would evoke the same luxury style that first made it a popular winter getaway in the early 20th Century, only with updates to satisfy modern vacationers. For example, the outmoded shared washroom arrangement would be scrapped for individual bathrooms.

Its lobby and 85 guest rooms also would be elevated above a ground-floor parking garage, protecting it against potential flood waters from St. Joseph Sound across the street.

Several rows of new town homes would go behind the hotel, but its front façade captures all the design elements of its predecessor, up to the twin turrets at its crown.

“Is it the real thing? Well, it’s there in look and feel. When you walk into that new hotel, you’re going to feel as though you were back to the Fenway,” said Vinnie Luisi, who heads up the Dunedin Historical Society and Museum.

After several failed attempts at renovation, city officials and local preservationists both concluded that saving the current building wouldn’t be profitable for a developer.

The recession, combined with the enormous expense of retrofitting and replacing plumbing, electricity, windows, even room configurations, contributed to the property’s most recent owner, George Rahdert, going into foreclosure.

If it couldn’t be saved in a profitable way, the city commission opted to allow it to be demolished, so long as the developer committed to replacing it with a new building that maintains its historic architecture.

That’s precisely what Christy Bower and her father, James Bower, aimed to do after discovering the property during a visit to Dunedin.

But when PNC Bank failed to respond to their purchase offer last fall, the Bowers said they would have to back out. The bank recently accepted the offer and the Bowers now have the property under contract, city officials said.

“They were able to come up with a new offer and re-establish negotiations with the bank,” city economic development director Bob Ironsmith said.

Christy Bower did not respond to a request for an interview.

Next month, the project will be reviewed in a series of meetings with the surrounding neighbors and the city planning agency. The site plan and development agreement ultimately will go before the city commission for a vote.

City leaders already have spoken in favor of the new Fenway, with commissioners voting late last year to modify land use rules that would allow the Bowers to tear it down and rebuild it.

A specific construction timeline isn’t clear yet, though Ironsmith estimated demolition could begin this fall.

With hotel occupancy rates higher than 70 percent and tourism high across Pinellas County, Ironsmith says there is demand for new accommodations, especially an independent hotel located close to the collection of local shops and restaurants in the historic downtown.

In addition to being built up to a higher safety code, the new hotel will also feature a café and a swimming pool.

“We think it will support the merchants really well, the whole city,” Ironsmith said.

This wouldn’t be the first time the hotel has been resurrected.

Within a decade of the construction of the Fenway, named for its proximity to what was then dubbed “Fenway Bay,” the lodge had to be shuttered for many years following the Great Depression, Luisi said.

After reopening, it continued as a hotel into the 1960s before being repurposed as a college campus.

Luisi is hopeful the newly built Fenway will bring the property back to its origins.

“Sometimes you have to lose something, but you get it back in another way,” Luisi said.

“At least we’re going to have a beautiful hotel that’s going to repeat the history of the Fenway Hotel in the future.”


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