ST. PETERSBURG — Neighbors had complained about the eyesore at the entrance to their waterfront community. A once proud hotel, it had deteriorated into a haven for drugs and prostitutes, and last fall, it was shut down by the city.
Then new owners David Reinhardt and David Baker came along. More than a million dollars later, the place gleams. There's fresh paint, new tile, carpet and furniture. The 77,000-gallon kidney-shaped pool — overlooked by balconies and a recently built cabana bar — has water again. A white fence, rising 6 to 8 feet and softened with shrubbery, ensures privacy and security.
An understated sign announces the new name, the Flamingo. A Web site gives more details, saying it's the area's newest exclusively gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender luxury resort. Also, says Baker, it is the largest in the Southeast. Today marks the grand opening.
Some neighbors have reservations about the gay-themed resort, but others are relieved that the property at 4601 34th St. S no longer is a blight in the community, where the asking price for homes can soar to more than $1 million.
"We welcome any kind of legitimate business that's going to keep the place looking nice,'' said Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association. "That place was a dump . . . We're lucky that these guys came in and put their hard-earned dollars into it.''
Business partners Reinhardt, 39, and Baker, 43, took ownership of the former JMS Hotel in April and began improvements soon after. "I wanted fresh, bright and clean,'' said Baker, sitting in the hotel's video and sports bar with its cool blues, warm whites, mirrored wall and acrylic paintings of buff men by local artist John Kohlburn.
Female impersonator Bobby York — a stage name — has been hired to direct the Saturday night shows. "I'm a Cher impersonator. She is one of eight characters I do,'' said York, 46, a horticulturist whose day job is an assistant in Pinellas County school classrooms.
Reinhardt and Baker say transforming the rundown property was made easier with help from the city. The former JMS Hotel made news last fall when city officials declared it unsafe for the more than a dozen families, including 24 children, who made it their home. The hotel's electricity had been shut off because of unpaid bills, and the water was about to be turned off. While the residents found places to live with help from city and county social services agencies, the property, which had been going through foreclosure proceedings, appeared destined to sit empty into the foreseeable future.
For that reason, when Baker and Reinhardt announced plans to renovate it, the city supported the project, Deputy Mayor Dave Metz said.
"We knew that these are tough economic times,'' he said. "We gave them a little extra effort and attention. It's very nice to see this project come to fruition.''
The place needed plenty of work, some of it unanticipated. To save money, the new owners decided to subcontract the work themselves, said Gary Bush, operations manager for the city's codes compliance assistance department.
"And that's quite a feat. I got in at that point and assisted to manage that,'' he said. "They are a great bunch of people and they responded to everything the city asked them to do.''
The new hotel will fill the void left by the Suncoast Resort, which served the same clientele and closed in 2007, Baker said.
While it is geared toward gays, Baker added, "We also want our neighbors to come here and have lunch. We definitely see this as a venue for the community. We're here for the long haul.''
The Broadwater Civic Association is relieved. "Think back to last year at this time and remember the way the property looked and did business,'' Ando wrote in the neighborhood's recent newsletter. "We are fortunate that the change has come so quickly considering the state of the economy.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.