|By Justin George, Tampa Bay Times, St.
Petersburg, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 29, 2012--SOHO -- It was a grand vision of fine dining and elegant living that was shelved four years ago.
But a Bern's-inspired luxury boutique hotel is back on the design board and expected to break ground this fall, bringing with it another SoHo restaurant, bar and spa across from the iconic Howard Avenue steak house.
The $32.5 million four-story project is being pitched as a boutique hotel with 145 rooms priced at about $200 a night. Named the Epicurean, the hotel is being built on the 2.3-acre parking lot site of Bern's as a partnership between Bern's and Mainsail Lodging and Development.
It will be marketed as part of Marriott's Autograph Collection.
"We're looking forward to opening this product because it's so unique and so different," said Norwood Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for Mainsail, based in Tampa.
The hotel's first floor will feature a full-service spa, health club, wine shop, bakery and a demonstration kitchen where Bern's, SideBern's and guest chefs can hold culinary classes and events. The hotel will include a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and a rooftop bar and cocktail area.
"For such a small footprint and boutique property," Smith said, "we're expecting a huge relationship with the local residents."
Doug McClain, vice president of marketing and communications for Tampa Bay & Co., the visitors bureau, said the hotel fills a need in Tampa for an upscale hotel for tourists while also creating jobs and more dining choices for SoHo.
"I've seen some of the renderings of the property," he said, "and I really think it's really going to hit a sweet spot for Tampa Bay."
Many of the concepts included in the blueprint were part of the first iteration of the project, a "condo hotel" dreamt up by Bern's Steak House owner David Laxer. But the 2007 project was unable to secure financing when the economy crashed a year later. Under the condo-hotel concept, owners buy units, get access to them for 45 days a year and then get a percentage of room rental profits.
Although initial interest was high, only a few buyers signed contracts for the proposed 75 rooms and suites that were being offered for $200,000 and up. Only a parking garage was built.
"We stopped the project," Bern's spokeswoman Brooke Palmer said. "You don't open a condo ownership hotel in 2008 when the economy is bad."
Mainsail, brought aboard as a development partner, helped refashion the project into a boutique hotel that will carry Marriott's brand. Mainsail also operates an apartment complex and the Mainsail Suites Hotel & Conference Center in Town 'N Country, as well as properties on Anna Maria Island, Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands, and the Marriott ExecuStay corporate housing franchises in the U.S. Southeast.
Floor plans are being finalized, Smith said. The Bern's culinary team has been meeting with developers to design the hotel's kitchens and restaurant, Palmer said.
Epicurean's development team expects to break ground in August, Smith said, with an opening slated for November 2013.
Justin George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3368.
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