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Luxury Ritz-Carlton Tampa Bay deal falls apart

Financing for Orion Communities’ Ritz-Carlton project in Tampa fell apart when two foreign investors withdrew.

Orion Communities

Financing for Orion Communities’ Ritz-Carlton project in Tampa fell apart when two foreign investors withdrew.

Plans for the Tampa Bay area's first top-tier branded hotel are off.

Clearwater developer Sandip Patel and his Orion Communities partners failed to raise enough money for the $425-million project, which was to include a 269-room Ritz-Carlton and 176 condos on the site of Tampa's Bay Harbor Radisson Hotel, just off the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

The hotel's owners terminated the land sale.

Capital Realty Investors will renovate the aging Radisson and give it a new brand, said president Ben Wacksman, a partner in the company with Lazy Days RV Center founder Don Wallace.

The project stalled when two overseas investors withdrew because of deteriorating financial markets over the past year, Patel said.

"The current financial headwinds made some of the equity financing impossible at this time," he wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "Had we been in the market about 18 months (earlier), it is likely we would be under construction."

Patel and Ritz-Carlton officials say they remain committed to bringing the brand to the area and hope to jump-start the project in a year to 18 months. But Patel isn't sure if the Radisson property or alternative sites will be available.

There's no shortage of high-end hotels in the area. Clearwater Beach has the Sandpearl Resort. St. Pete Beach boasts the Don CeSar Beach Resort. Fancy Renaissance properties sit on both sides of Tampa Bay: the Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg and Tampa Hotel International Plaza.

But none carry the white-glove Ritz cachet.

"When you talk about Ritz-Carlton, it's on a list with St. Regis and Four Seasons," says Steve Hayes, executive vice president of Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough County's tourism marketing agency. "Obviously, we don't have a property like that."

Besides stoking civic pride, luxury brands bring business. Republican Party officials counted the lack of a "five-star hotel" as a strike against Tampa's bid for their national convention this year, said Mark Huey, economic development administrator for Mayor Pam Iorio.

The area attracts enough high-spending visitors to support a luxury hotel with average daily rates above $350, says Lou Plasencia, chief executive of the Plasencia Group in Tampa, which brokers hotel sales nationwide.

"There's demand as long as (the hotel) is modest in size and scope," he says. Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach would be the most likely locations, followed by Tampa's West Shore area, downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, says Plasencia.

Radisson's owners don't plan to go upscale. They'll freshen up the waterfront hotel with new carpets, furniture and exterior work while remaining open, said Wacksman.

Casual touches like Crabby Bill's Beach Club, sand volleyball courts and all will remain, he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Luxury Ritz-Carlton Tampa Bay deal falls apart 09/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 8:41pm]

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