Make us your home page

St. Petersburg's Vinoy Renaissance resort breaks ground on renovations

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's stately landmark hotel, which has reflected opulence, neglect and rebirth as a catalyst for downtown redevelopment over its 90 years, will be getting a facelift as it enters a new era.

"We're a historic landmark and that will always be who we are. We have to honor that legacy. But we also have to make it relevant to the next generation of millennial traveler," said Barbara Readey, general manager of the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club. "I do think this redevelopment is going to make a statement as to the changing demographics of St. Petersburg. Younger families are moving here, and restaurants are popping up appealing to the trendier (clientele)."

The resort hotel, sitting just off the waterfront at 501 Fifth Ave. NE, will get a multiphased renovation and redevelopment, starting immediately with the Vinoy Golf Club, a section of the complex spreading onto Snell Isle. It will include a new pool deck with a kids' splash zone, redesigned clubhouse restaurant, new poolside food and beverage service, redesigned locker rooms and improvements to the golf course and practice facility.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday, and the golf club phase of construction will begin immediately. Toward the end of the year, a second phase will focus on the hotel itself, with a new spa, fitness center, additional parking, new tennis courts and a marina-front restaurant on the drawing board.

Readey said the hotel phase of the renovation is still "in ideation" and "the cash registers are still ringing," so owner FelCor Lodging Trust hasn't said how much the overall project would cost. It wouldn't approach the $93 million pumped into the 1992 rebirth of the historic resort, she said.

According to local lore, the Vinoy was born out of a golf bet. Legendary golfer Walter Hagen was challenged to hit balls off the pocket watch of Aymer Vinoy Laughner, a wealthy Pennsylvania oilman and winter visitor. From Laughner's yard, Hagen did so cleanly — without cracking the watch crystal — and members of the golf party goaded Laughner into building a hotel where the balls had fallen.

The Vinoy Park Hotel opened on New Year's Eve 1925. Over the years, the rich and famous flocked to the hotel, among them President Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe.

During World War II, the hotel was leased to the military. It reopened to the public after the war, but demand for rooms sank, and Laughner sold it. After decades of decline, it closed in 1974.

The building sat in squalor through the 1970s and '80s, its windows broken, its halls roamed by the homeless and the mischievous. But in the late 1980s, New York developer Fred Guest foresaw a grand hotel amid bustling streets, shops and residential development.

He pumped $93 million into the facility, doubling the size of rooms and building a tower of 100 new rooms. The Stouffer Vinoy Resort reopened to much celebration in 1992.

Architects and designers focused on that rich history with the new renovation, said Miriam Torres, principal designer with Parker-Torres Design Inc. of Sudbury, Mass.

"When we were awarded the project, the most important thing to me was how to celebrate the history," Torres said. She read historical accounts of the resort, she said, "and I realized how important it was to bring back the grandeur of the 1920s."

That will be reflected in particular fabrics and patterns such as the herringbone common to the era. There will be special touches — columns partly wrapped in red leather, conjuring the look of golf club grips from the 1920s, and personal liquor lockers appearing as suitcases from the time.

"These are references that people at first would not realize, but as they look into it, they'll know how important it was to design the very small details and the very elegant references to the property," Torres said. "The property was so iconic. It was important to take a special look and to reference to the past before we go into the future."

New York developer Guest was just slightly premature with his downtown vision — the hotel was foreclosed on in 1993 and ownership has changed hands several times. But there is little doubt a viable, high-end hotel played a role in St. Petersburg's remarkable resurgence.

"To have a space like this on the waterfront that was really the heart and soul of the city, that was shuttered for as long as it was, it kind of reflected in some ways the city," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said at Wednesday's event. "And as this facility came to life, the city started coming back to life. Today, it's hard to imagine our downtown and our waterfront without a Vinoy.

"It's the heart that keeps the blood flowing through the downtown area," he said.

Construction is expected to take roughly two years. Both the golf club and hotel will remain open during renovations.

St. Petersburg's Vinoy Renaissance resort breaks ground on renovations 05/11/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 7:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Who's best global airline? Qatar Airways takes No. 1 spot but Delta tops U.S. carriers


    The good news? Delta Airlines tops all U.S. airlines in a new Skytrax global airline passenger satisfaction survey of the world's best airlines. The bad news? At No. 32, Delta still ranks behind dozens of Middle East, Asian and some European airlines. For Tampa International Airport and the major airlines that operate …

    Southwest Airlines, the biggest carrier at Tampa International Airport, improved its customer satisfaction rating among global airlines in a recent survey.
[Times file photo]
  2. Vinoy resort will ask St. Petersburg voters to approve new parking garage (with tennis courts on top)

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club is undergoing a $50 million redevelopment and part of that plan calls for building a new one-story parking garage over eight existing tennis courts.

    The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club is undergoing a $50 million redevelopment. The Vinoy wants to build a one-story parking garage as part of that project, in place of eight existing tennis courts. The tennis courts would be moved on top of the garage, which would hold 270 parking spots. But the Vinoy needs St. Petersburg voters to approve the project in a November referendum. This is an artists' rendering of the new garage from the street. [Courtesy of Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club]
  3. House committee passes Florida-sponsored flood insurance bill


    The House Financial Services Committee pushed through a Florida-sponsored bill intended to cut flood insurance costs. If passed, the bipartisan bill would help create a marketplace for private flood insurance.

    A House committee passed a Florida-sponsored bill meant to lower flood insurance rates.
[Times file photo]
  4. 3 new restaurants open: Deccan Spice Indian food, Farmacy Vegan Kitchen, the Cake Shop

    Food & Dining


    Deccan Spice has opened at 2325 Ulmerton Road, in what used to be the elegant and vast Grand Siam space in Feather Sound. It's getting high marks so far for its traditional Indian lunch buffet, and offers a range of southern Indian dishes (vadas and dosas and idlis, oh my) seldom seen …

    Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery serves wraps, acai bowls, smoothies and juices and plant-based baked goods like strawberry cupcakes. Photo courtesy of Charles Rumph.
  5. The driver who died in a Tesla crash in Florida using Autopilot ignored 7 safety warnings


    When Joshua Brown's Tesla slammed into the side of a tractor-trailer last year at more than 70 miles per hour, the fatal accident became the world's first known car crash involving a partly autonomous vehicle.

    Tesla requires its drivers to keep their hands on the wheel even when Autopilot is engaged. A crash in Florida showed that the driver was warned to keep his hands on the steering wheel.  (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) TXTG101