ST. PETERSBURG — Last spring, Ryan Tarrant applied for a job with the new Hyatt Place nearing completion in downtown St. Petersburg. Among the questions an interviewer asked:
What does this hotel need to succeed?
"I said, you've got to be involved with the arts,'' Tarrant recalls. "You have to have craft beers. You have to have craft cocktails because the craft cocktail scene is really big here. You have to have local coffee."
That answer made an impression: Kolter Hospitality hired Tarrant as sales director of the 175-room hotel that opens Tuesday with craft beer on tap, a craft cocktail bar with outdoor seating and a meeting room named for the James Museum of Western Art right across the street. Locally made Black Crow coffee will be available as part of the hotel's banquet services.
"It's St. Pete-centric," Tarrant said as recently led a reporter and photographer on a tour of the hotel, decorated in what he calls "urban ocean" hues of teal, blue and gray.
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The Hyatt at 25 2nd St. N sits in the shadow of ONE St. Petersburg, a 41-story condo tower under construction by the parent Kolter Group of West Palm Beach. And it fits a niche between downtown's two full service hotels — the Vinoy and the Hilton — and two competitors in the select- service category, the Courtyard Marriott and the Hampton Inn.
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Typical of other select-service hotels, the Hyatt won't offer 24 hour room service or valet parking. But guests will be able to order at all hours from a menu of 30 or so items and pick them up in the "gallery" (Hyatt-speak for lobby) along with free coffee. The Hyatt will also include a beer and pizza tavern — Oak & Stone — due to open early next year. And it has more meeting space than its select-service rivals plus a ballroom that can accommodate up to 200 guests.
"Most weddings have 125 to 150 people so we will be a good choice for those who can't afford the Vinoy but need a lot of space," Tarrant said. The Sunshine City Ballroom, as it is dubbed, can be partitioned into the smaller Kenwood, Driftwood and Coquina rooms. All are reached via a long corridor that will double as a striking pre-function area with its full length, floor-to-ceiling windows affording panoramic city views.
"It's like a full- service hotel with the prices of an upscale select service hotel," Tarrant said.
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The Hyatt has already begun taking reservations and is almost fully booked for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March. Rates will run around $200 during the off season and around $230 in the peak winter months of January to April. The prices include complimentary breakfast with build-your-own breakfast bowls.
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Even with Hyatt Place, St. Petersburg will have fewer than 1,000 of what hospitality industry expert Lou Plasencia considers Class A hotel rooms. That compares to about 7,500 such rooms in Tampa and leaves St. Petersburg at a disadvantage with other Florida cities in attracting large regional meetings of companies like Cisco, 3M and Microsoft.
"The addition of Hyatt Place is a big plus in that it does add room inventory and brings another major brand into the (Pinellas County) market," said Plasencia of Tampa's The Plasencia Group. "That said, downtown St. Pete in my opinion still needs a major, full-service conference or convention hotel to support the demand that is already there. Given the base of amenities, the proximity to the water, the proximity to two very fine airports, there are a lot of things that would attract meeting planners, particularly corporate meeting planners that tend to pay a higher rate."
Plasencia noted that Hyatt Place is "pretty much at the lowest price point" of the Hyatt family of hotels, which includes Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency and Park Hyatt. (Tampa has a Grand Hyatt). St. Petersburg would be "well served," he said, by a 450- to 500-room convention hotel similar to those in Orlando and what Strategic Property Partners recently proposed for downtown Tampa.
"I venture to say, having been in this business for over 30 years, there is demand for a larger convention facility in downtown St. Petersburg right now," Plasencia said.
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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has expressed hope that New York's Red Apple Group, which bought of the 400 block of Central Avenue last year, will include a hotel on the site. Red Apple owner John Catsimatidis is considering both a hotel and condos, but Plasencia doesn't think the block is big enough to accommodate a large hotel with ample meeting and exhibit space.
A more promising site is the 85-acre tract just west of downtown where Tropicana Field now stands. The future useis up in the air, though, until the Tampa Bay Rays decide whether to stay or move elsewhere.
Though not the convention hotel Plasencia thinks St. Petersburg could support, he calls the Hyatt Place brand a "phenomenal product" that has been "very well received by consumers" who like the moderate prices, free Wi-Fi and pet friendly rooms.
The owner of the St. Petersburg property, Kolter Hospitality, recently opened a Westin in Sarasota but most of the hotels it has developed are Hyatt Places. The company has such a strong track record with the brand, Tarrant says, that it has more leeway to adds its own touches than is usually the case with franchisees
"We take what Hyatt lets us do and pump a bunch of energy in," he said.
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Hence, Tarrant wants to commission a St. Petersburg artist to paint a mural on what is now a large blank wall where cars pull into the 150-space garage. The hotel's Hybar will feature craft beers from three local companies: Cycle, Green Bench and St. Pete Brewing.
Typical of Hyatt Place sales directors, Tarrant has strong ties to the local community. The 35-year-old University of Florida alumnus previously worked for another Tampa Bay hotel, is a graduate of Leadership St. Pete and is on the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce's board of governors.
Tarrant has spent the weeks before the hotel's soft opening Tuesday (a grand opening will be held later this fall) attending marathon staff training sessions and checking out everything from the ground-floor gallery with its multiple seating places to the guest rooms, some of which have partial water views and overlook the pool with tiki bar.
All rooms include the Hyatt Place "Cozy Corner'' — a sofa bed separated from the main sleeping area. Tarrant is also quick to point out that windows are triple-paned — a plus for guests trying to snooze in a hotel across the street from Jannus Landing with its loud concerts and next to ONE St. Petersburg, where construction will continue for several more months.
Kolter would not disclose how much the Hyatt Place cost but the entire project — hotel and condo tower — has been estimated at $200 million.
While the sight of construction cranes towering nearby might temporarily keep some guests away, ONE St. Petersburg will be a boon to the Hyatt, Tarrant predicts. Condo owners will have a place for friends and relatives to stay when they visit town.
"It's a really good solution," he said, "if you need an extra bedroom or two."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate