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Clearwater Beach Hotel project ready to enter next stage

CLEARWATER

The 101 Coronado hotel is a 10-story shell of concrete, steel and scaffoldings, lined with rebar and red tape, with a roof only a few days old.

It is also an endangered species: a new beach hotel, built with a level of investment few have copied. Above it towers the only crane on Clearwater Beach. By spring it could be open for business.

Years ago, beach developers had planned $1 billion in construction, with promises of condo and resort towers that would transfigure the waterfront skyline.

Much in those blueprints never happened. Financing lines froze; demand dried up. Yet now, a few years out, some of those projects have come to life.

With construction costs of about $8 million, the 101 Coronado will have a rooftop bar, 108 mid-priced rooms and sweeping views of the Gulf and Clearwater Harbor. About 75 workers have worked on the site since March, sometimes seven days a week.

On the site of the razed Port Vue Motel, the hotel was built on land the size of a "44-cent postage stamp," said Tampa architect William F. Mills II. When pouring concrete, crews routinely had to close Coronado Drive.

Yet its location could provide its biggest strength. Next to the Clearwater Municipal Marina, it could be one of the first hotels that tourists see as they turn off the roundabout.

On Tuesday afternoon, the developers gathered for a topping-out ceremony celebrating the end of the construction of the hotel's shell. Nearly everything else — the beds and doors and flooring, the dark-wood furnishings, the tropical decor — will be finished by March, in time for the spring boom.

Owner Jeff Keierleber, whose Decade Properties owns three other hotels on the Pinellas County coast, had long said the hotel would be part of a franchise like Holiday Inn Express. But on Tuesday, he said the hotel would be independent, with a new name not yet released.

A short walk from the Hyatt Regency resort, the hotel will likely fit in the price gap between upscale resorts like the Hyatt and mom-and-pop shops catering to tight budgets.

Across the street there's an example of an investment that is yet to grow past blueprints: a site owned by Kiran Patel, bought for $40 million in 2004. In seven years, the planned $250 million, 15-story resort has yet to break ground. Some have derided it as the state's most costly parking lot.

"The bad news is there's only one crane out on Clearwater Beach," said David Brandon, the president of Brandon Construction, which built the shell at 101 Coronado. "But the good news is, it's ours."

At least one business isn't overjoyed at the hotel's progress: its next-door neighbors, the Sea Captain Resort on the Bay. The two-story mom-and-pop motel, built in 1953, sits in the shell's shadow, just a few feet away from its concrete. For months they have offered a construction discount: $10 off a night, to deal with the noise and stress.

With shuffleboard courts, wicker furniture and a front office stacked with romance novels, the 28-room, robin-egg-blue resort serves an older crowd turned off by the towering hotels. Darlene Badertscher, a longtime resident who now works at the front desk, said they were joking that they would paint an advertisement on their roof to lure the hotel visitors.

"People upstairs will see that, and see our nice clean pool," Badertscher said, "and wonder, 'Why am I up here?' "

However, it remains to be seen how long the Sea Captain will stand as a holdout against the forces of modern hoteliers.

In January, the owner asked the city to allow him to replace the Sea Captain into a nine-story resort.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Clearwater Beach Hotel project ready to enter next stage 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 7:44pm]
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