St. Pete's Vinoy Resort appears on Sci Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters series Wednesday
After all, pop culture is littered with stories about haunted houses or hotels, and few read like tourist brochures: The Shining. The Haunting. The Amityville Horror.
Then officials at St. Petersburg’s Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club heard about how an appearance on the Sci Fi Channel’s Ghost Hunters exploded the business of a bed and breakfast where they filmed. And calls from the producers to film on the premises got a much different reception.
"(That hotel was) inundated with people who wanted to come and be a part of this thing," said Dennis Lesko, director of sales and marketing for the luxury hotel. "It’s a market niche you would never think of exploring, but it’s literally found business — people who follow ghost sightings and may want to stay in a place that has ghosts. In a dawn economy, you need to build business any way you can."
The Vinoy opened its doors to Ghost Hunters back in July, reserving the hotel’s entire fifth floor for the 10-day production (actual filming only took about four days, Lesko said). The episode airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday night on the Sci Fi Channel, called "Ghosts of the Sunshine State." The public is invited to watch the episode at the hotel, at 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg.
Hosts Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson — plumbers by trade, believe it or not — head the Atlantic Paranormal Society, a group that investigates tales of paranormal sightings to separate the spiritual from the superficial.
Producers were drawn to the Vinoy by a host of stories from staffers and visitors claiming to sense an otherworldly presence in the halls — from a misty woman in white touted by local ghost tours to a man dressed in clothes from the hotel’s 1920s-era founding, described by visiting major league baseball players.
An entire chapter of the book Haunted Baseball details the ghost stories from players staying at the Vinoy, which houses the visiting teams playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Scott Williamson famously told of encountering a ghost at the Vinoy in 2003, along with members of the Pittsburgh Pirates and former Toronto Blue Jays reliever John Frascatore. Click here to read.
Water faucets turning on by themselves. Doors opening and closing mysteriously. Lights in the rooms flickering with no apparent cause (though some of us living in the Tampa Bay area know that can happen anywhere). All these pranks and more are supposedly the results of mischievous spirits floating through the corridors of the Vinoy.
Still, Lesko’s quick to point out these are not the make-you-want-to-kill-your-family ghosts from classic horror tales such as The Shining. "There are no negative vibes here," he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "The people who embrace this are fun and they embrace the fun nature of ghost sightings."
Vinoy staff can’t say what the ghost hunters found, for fear of busting the episode’s suspense (here’s a hint: an episode would be really boring if they didn’t find something weird).
But the hotel has concocted a special "ghost-tini" drink, offers a special "Ghostly Getaway" package for Halloween and may put a book at the front desk where people can document their ghostly experiences.
And as the Rays proceed through the baseball playoffs, perhaps more opposing players will find themselves housed on the fifth floor.
"We have 360 rooms, so anyone who needs to move, can be moved," Lesko said, laughing. "But it might help to put the opposing teams in there."