|By Randy Diamond, Tampa Tribune, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 4, 2004 -TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa's fifth-largest hotel has shuttered two thirds of its rooms after complaints about deplorable conditions in the 13-story downtown property that recently lost its Holiday Inn franchise.
"I wouldn't spend the night here, I'm not going to ask anyone else to," Larry Collier, the general manager of the former Holiday Inn City Center said of the shut-down section at the 312-room hotel.
He said 212 rooms were closed about two weeks ago because of a stench from mildew that developed when the air conditioning broke down last year and remained unrepaired for six months.
Collier also revealed Monday that officials of the InterContinental Hotel Group, owners of the Holiday Inn franchise, had stripped the hotel of its franchise last February. He said the decision came after the hotel's owners, Tampa's HI Development, which operates out of the building's second floor, decided not spent the $7.5 million necessary to bring it up to Holiday Inn standards.
He said the hotel on Fortune Street, which has been renamed The Ashley Plaza Hotel, still will book 100 renovated rooms on the top three floors.
Despite losing its Holiday Inn status, the hotel has continued to display that name on the outside. But that will change this week, when a scaffolding crew will begin taking down the sign. A voice message when the hotel is called, still thanks callers for phoning "the Holiday Inn City Center."
Angry travelers have complained in the last two months on one Internet travel site, www.tripadvisor.com, that they were misled to think the hotel was a Holiday Inn. In addition to the mildew, they cited water damage, peeling paint, bed bugs and vomit.
Collier said he doesn't know about the bed bugs, but admits, "I would be lying if I didn't say the building was in rough shape." He said many of the complaints were valid and that past guests have been offered refunds on a case-by- case basis.
But he also said there was no attempt to deceive guests that the hotel was still a Holiday Inn. Collier said it took the hotel several months to receive city permits to remove the five Holiday Inn signs. He said the mention of the Holiday Inn on the hotel's voicemail system, "was an oversight," that would be corrected by this morning.
Caroline Sanfillippo, a spokeswoman for the InterContinental Hotel Group, declined to discuss the hotel's problems, only saying the property ceased to be a Holiday Inn on Feb. 17.
The hotel's owners, HI Development, owns 13 hotels in Florida and Puerto Rico, most of them Holiday Inns. The privately held Tampa company is owned by the Callen family, who have been in the hotel business for decades.
HI Development didn't want to spent the money to upgrade the building as a Holiday Inn because officials were exploring other concepts, Collier said. Those include transforming the property into a boutique hotel or an all-suites property. He said their hotel consultants should issue a report within 60 days.
Collier said the hotel originally was scheduled to be renovated in 2000. But because of high occupancy, the renovation was delayed until the following year. Then the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred.
"We postponed renovation one year, then the bottom fell out and financing was impossible," Collier said. "We rolled the dice and came up craps."
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(c) 2004, Tampa Tribune, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. IHG,