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Dec. 14--Hotelier Kanti Patel recently purchased the Solla-Carcaba building at 88 Riberia St., a former cigar factory that's now used for offices, and he plans to turn the building into a hotel.

Patel purchased the St. Augustine property via his business Vista Hotel VIII in September for $2.25 million, according to the St. Johns County Property Appraiser's website.

He said on Thursday that he doesn't know when he wants to open the hotel, but the project is under design. He plans to have 50 rooms at the hotel and keep the exterior of the building intact.

"We're going to keep the historical look and save everything outside," he said.

The current zoning of the property, Commercial Low-Two, allows for hotels and motels of up to 50 units, according to the city. The height limit is 35 feet.

For now, he plans to keep the office spaces occupied, though he has raised the rent on tenants to help afford the building, he said.

Troy Blevins, property manager for Patel, said the office rental rates hadn't been raised in about 17 years, and Patel raised them to market rate. In some cases, that meant raising the rates about 80 percent. Patel waited a few months before raising the rates, Blevins said.

Patel has developed large hotels in St. Augustine, including the Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront hotel. He's also developing a hotel at one corner of San Marco Avenue and West Castillo Drive.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in the early 1900s on marsh once owned by Henry Flagler.

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