|By Randy Diamond, Tampa Tribune, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 21, 2005 - TAMPA -- A developer who purchased the shuttered Floridan hotel for $6 million plans to turn the downtown landmark into a luxury hotel targeting business travelers and tourists.
The development company, headed up by Antonios Markopoulos, plans to transform the deteriorated building, opened in 1927, into the top hotel in Tampa, said Lisa Shasteen, a lawyer who represents Markopoulos.
"There are plenty of hotels in town," Shasteen said. "The developers plan to distinguish the Floridan from the rest of the pack."
The development joins other hotel projects recently announced for Tampa, some also promised as luxury accommodations. At least two are planned for the downtown area. A Westin hotel is planned for a site near the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
The Floridan, now boarded up at Cass Street and Florida Avenue, has a long history in Tampa. Once an exclusive hotel, it last entertained guests in 1987 and had become a visible sign of decline in downtown's north end and for several stalled redevelopment plans.
"It had been a blight and a cloud on the downtown renaissance," Tampa Economic Development Director Mark Huey said.
Huey said Wednesday's announcement, along with other development plans nearby, are hopeful signs. They include, across the street from the Floridan, the old Kress building, scheduled to be turned into residential housing, and several nearby condominium projects, he said.
Past efforts to restore the hotel never materialized. Five developers in the past 25 years failed to make good on their plans.
This time is different, city officials said. Huey says developer Markopoulos appears to have the financial resources to make the project happen.
Markopoulos sold a Days Inn he owned on Clearwater Beach for $40 million in September 2004 to Tampa philanthropist Kiran C. Patel. A luxury resort is slated for the site, and Markopoulos was one of the developers of the planned resort until he sold out to Patel. It was one of the biggest real estate transactions in Pinellas County history.
Markopoulos purchased the Floridan from Capital LLC, which bought the hotel in 1997. The death last year of the company's president, Alec Land, ended the company's efforts to finance the project, said its attorney, Jim Cusack.
When the Floridan opened, it was the tallest building in Florida, and its 400 rooms were among the most luxurious in Tampa. It quickly became one of Tampa's top hotels.
The announcement of the Floridan's renovation is important because of the hotel's significance in Tampa histo ry, said Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
"It's a Tampa icon," but in recent years it "had become a very sad eyesore," she said.
The hotel could count among its guests Elvis Presley, who bunked there after a concert in 1955. Gary Cooper wooed actress Lupe Velez at the Floridan. Velez was in town to film the movie "Hell Harbor," one of the first talkies.
By the 1950s, the hotel had begun to decline. Newer motor hotels in suburban Tampa became the places to stay, and the Floridan became known more for its inexpensive rates than its luxury.
In 1962, owners invested $1 million in the property, but by 1969 the hotel offered monthly or longer room rates. After a brief closing in the 1970s, there was a succession of owners.
Shasteen said it should take about two years to reopen the hotel, which will have fewer rooms, a trend when renovating older luxury hotels. It will include a fine dining establishment that will aim to attract hotel guests and Tampa residents, she said.
The Floridan renovation is the latest plan in a race to build luxury hotels in Tampa. A Fairmont hotel is planned for the Channelside district, a Westin Hotel for Courtney Campbell Parkway and a yet-to-be named luxury hotel across the Hillsborough River on Plant Avenue.
Researcher Angie Drobnic-Holan contributed to this report.
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