|By Kevin Wiatrowski, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 29, 2012--TAMPA -- Would allowing bed-and-breakfast inns boost Tampa tourism?
A group of city business leaders thinks it might. They've begun exploring ways to open the city to this type of small-scale lodging.
"Not only can we remove impediments, but there might be other things we can do to encourage tourism," said Ron Christaldi, head of a group created by the Tampa City Council seeking ways to turn the city's unique cultural assets into economic engines.
The group's first proposal -- this spring's designation of the Cuban sandwich as a city cultural icon -- prompted a war of words and taste buds with Miami on the eve of the Republican National Convention. It also landed Tampa on the pages of this month's National Geographic Traveler magazine.
The group's next campaign -- rewriting the city code to allow for B&Bs -- is less splashy but could have longer-lasting effects.
Tampa has loads of big-name corporate-owned hotels. It lacks the kind of cozy inns where guests mingle with the owners and each other over morning coffee.
Christaldi said the B&B idea grew out of a visit by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce to Baltimore earlier this month. He joined Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin and Mayor Bob Buckhorn on the trip.
Among other things, the group saw that Baltimore was using B&Bs to help expand its cultural tourism.
"The B&B community is the foundation, the bedrock of that," Christaldi said.
Christaldi hopes Tampa will take a lesson from Baltimore and other cities that have opened their neighborhoods to B&Bs, which are virtually non-existent in Tampa.
B&B advocates are up against an outdated city code that doesn't even consider B&Bs an option for overnight stays. The fact that B&Bs traditionally operate in residential areas further complicates matters.
"It's like we drive cars, but the code is for horses," said Mike Arodak, who has two buildings he operates like B&Bs. City code enforcement officials have ticketed him at least once for lacking enough parking at one of them.
"My guests don't need parking," Arodak said. "They need public transportation."
The same is true for Bruce Holland, who runs Gram's Place in the Tampa Heights neighborhood.
Gram's Place bills itself as a hostel -- a designation that brings in lots of young foreign travelers. The sign facing Ola Street describes it as a bed-and-breakfast. City officials consider it a rooming house.
"Culturally, it's probably a lot richer than a B&B would be," Holland said.
On Friday, Holland had just bid farewell to a group of British guests. A pair of Croatian nationals were still visiting.
Holland took over the business in 2008 after the death of his brother Marc, who started the hostel more than 20 years ago. In 2006, a conflict with neighbors drew the attention of the city and put the future of the hostel in question.
City officials ultimately let the hostel stay, granting it an exemption from the city's zoning codes because it had been in place so long, Holland said.
"We fit now," Holland said. "But it was an ordeal."
B&B advocates hope to avoid similar problems in the future. They have the support of several council members, including councilman and B&B fan Mike Suarez.
"You get to see a particular place through the eyes of people who live there," Suarez aid.
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