DUNEDIN — After spending a decade behind boards and covered in graffiti, and the last few undergoing millions of dollars in renovations, the Fenway Hotel will soon accept reservations.
This morning, Fenway’s management led a hard hat tour through the Tampa Bay landmark that’s slated to open as a boutique hotel in late October. The 1920’s Mediterranean structure’s facade has been salvaged, restored and reinforced. What’s on the inside, however, is all new — and largely still exposed drywall and plaster.
"From a radio station, to (various) campuses… to an empty place homeless people were trying to break in," said developer Joe Collier, "this hotel has been through a lot."
At one point in the last five years, it seemed most likely the historic building at 453 Edgewater Drive would just be razed. But in 2014 the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America bought the site for $2.8 million. The nonprofit partnered with Collier’s Tampa company, Mainsail Lodging and Development, which will run the former jazz hub as a franchise of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
Collier, Mainsail’s president, said the new Fenway will offer a "look back at the old days but with a modern feel."
Once the more than $11 million project is completed, the Fenway will have 83 rooms, the HEW Parlor and Chophouse and a rooftop bar, the Hi-Fi, which overlooks the St. Joseph Sound.
Hew means "to chop" and matches the initials of the original architect, Herman Everett Wendell. Hi-Fi pays homage to Pinellas County’s first radio broadcast sent from the Fenway’s roof in 1925.
The hotel developers have embraced the hotel’s history as part of the experience they’re selling. Collier pointed to a space that would become a stage for live music in the lobby — dirt outside that would become plush grass for croquet games.
With only 83 rooms, much of the Fenway’s return on investment will depend on the hotel becoming a space tourist and locals can eat, drink and dance in together.
Downtown Dunedin has undergone a recent renaissance matched with an explosion of local breweries. But much hadn’t changed in its hotel inventory, made up of mostly big chains.
Leroy Bridges, the media director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, said that travelers are looking for authentic travel experiences, putting individualized boutique hotels in demand.
"And now this property will get people to experience and access all that Dunedin has to offer," he said.
Most of the Fenway’s rooms have yet to be painted, but one on the second floor is a model, furnished with night stands made to look like musician’s trunks and Spanish-inspired tile in the bathroom. Like Mainsail’s other luxury Autograph Collection hotel — Tampa’s Epicurean — the rooms will have an "artisan pantry" with select snacks and liquors.
The Fenway opened as a hotel in 1927; it stopped renting out rooms by the early 1960s. When it shuttered completely in 2005, the building had spent the bulk of its history as a campus for two different schools.
The Taoist Tai Chi Society first planned for the building to be its national headquarters. After hearing community feedback, the nonprofit decided to open it as a hotel to the public and have its main offices in the back of the 5.2-acre waterfront parcel.
Management on Wednesday estimated there are 40 to 45 days left of construction — then will come the furnishings and other final touches.
"We’ll certainly be working through some Saturdays," Collier said.
When the Fenway reopens later this year, it will be the first time anyone has been able to book a room there in nearly 60 years.
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This story will be updated. Check back at tampabay.com for more. Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.