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Sci Fi Channel's "Ghost Hunters' scopes out Vinoy's halls

At first, it wasn't something they really wanted to acknowledge.

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 business exploded at a bed and breakfast after it was featured on the Sci Fi Channel's reality TV series Ghost Hunters. After that, calls from the producers to film at the Vinoy 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."

The Vinoy opened its doors to Ghost Hunters back in July, reserving the hotel's entire fifth floor for the production.

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.

Water faucets turning on by themselves. Doors opening and closing mysteriously. Lights in the rooms flickering with no apparent cause. All these pranks and more supposedly are the results of mischievous spirits floating through the Vinoy.

Vinoy staffers 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).

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."

.Fast facts

Watch it

The Vinoy appears in the Ghosts of the Sunshine State episode of Ghost Hunters at 9 tonight on the Sci Fi Channel. The public is invited to watch the episode at the Vinoy, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg.

Sci Fi Channel's "Ghost Hunters' scopes out Vinoy's halls 09/30/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 1:40pm]
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