|By Richard Mullins, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 08, 2011--TAMPA -- The massive renovation of the Floridan Hotel in downtown Tampa is nearly done -- almost.
The historic hotel that's been under reconstruction for several years now stands with all its rooms completed, a lobby ready for a final floor polish and its bar nearly ready for crates of liquor for an opening party.
"It's not been easy, but that's O.K.," said Antonios Markopolous, owner of the hotel that's been everything from a swank tourist oasis to an abandoned flophouse. "If it was easy, everyone would do it."
The downtown hotel now awaits a huge shipment of furniture for each room and the final inspections and permits for plumbing, electrical and food service inspections. The walls that were once gutted have been closed up and re-plastered.
Various artists and craftsmen are finishing final details. For instance, this week in the sunny mezzanine of the elaborate marble-floored lobby, there was a row of seven seamstresses at sewing machines, busily fluffing and hemming enormous white curtains that will hang around the wide arched windows.
But when will it open for guests? The hotel owners won't commit to a date yet, and the hotel isn't on the list of available spots for the RNC convention in August next year.
At one point, the hotel owners had considered opening for the Super Bowl -- in February 2009.
Still, hotel owners decline to allow any photographs inside the building. That will wait until the grand opening, Markopolous said.
The biggest reason for all the delays so far: Breaking the many small rooms that were in the historic building into the much larger hotel rooms that travelers now expect in a modern hotel.
The hotel had to take 426 small rooms in the original layout and break them up into 195 larger, standard rooms, 15 suites and 3 penthouses. All the utilities were ripped out and replaced with modern systems. The showers were gutted and replaced with Spanish marble enclosures.
The air conditioning system was a huge problem, solved only this summer by finding ways to work within the existing structure -- not with window units.
Representatives from the Republican National Convention toured the hotel recently, but the hotel wasn't ready yet to come to terms on room price or availability.
This all cost "tens and tens of millions of dollars," said Lisa Shasteen, who is organizing much of the renovations. One thing is for sure. The hotel won't be re-branded as a big, brand name hotel like Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton -- not even if that meant those hotel companies merely managed the hotel as is often done with grand old hotels.
The current owners decided to keep the hotel independent, Shasteen said, and reinvest what would be royalty payments into the operations. Though she declined to say what rooms will cost, Shasteen said it's worth looking at other historic hotels in Florida.
Those prices can vary widely. Currently, Miami's posh Fontainbleau hotel charges $529 for a standard room at the end of March 2012. The Casa Monica hotel in downtown St. Augustine charges $260 for that same night.
(c)2011 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)
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