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New Clearwater Beach Hyatt an instant landmark

After 10 years and three owners, a plan for a waterfront resort in the heart of Clearwater Beach has come to fruition.

At Monday's grand opening of the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, city leaders remarked that NJR Development was finally the one to pull it off.

"They persevered. They pushed on. And they completed it," said City Council member John Doran.

The opening of the 250-suite luxury resort marks the second time in more than 25 years that Pinellas County has a new resort hotel on the beach.

Five years ago, NJR president Neil Rauenhorst's company paid $18.5 million for the property at 301 S Gulfview Blvd.

With lending freezes and the recession, several other projects foundered.

"We think that is significant that we could complete this project in this environment," Rauenhorst said.

From land or from water, the 1-million-square-foot, coral-colored resort can't be missed.

"Even the color of the building was thought through to create a landmark and an icon on Clearwater Beach," Rauenhorst said.

City officials said they expect the resort to bring new customers to Clearwater Beach and boost nearby establishments.

"There's always an enormous spinoff of hotels of this caliber to surrounding businesses," Mayor Frank Hibbard said.

It will also help replenish depleted hotel rooms, he said.

"We lost hundreds of hotel rooms to condo conversions. We know it was critically important to recapture some of those rooms," Hibbard said.

The Hyatt's amenities include a high-end restaurant, a spa and a pool deck with air-conditioned cabanas.

All rooms have full kitchens and balconies with views of the gulf. Nightly rates range from about $265 to $620.

The hotel also has a 750-space parking garage. With 400 spaces dedicated to the public, the city will replace most of the spaces it lost to the development of BeachWalk, a $30 million beach promenade.

The resort's rooms are condo-hotel units. People can buy the suites and stay in them up to 60 days a year. The rest of the year, Hyatt rents them to hotel guests and owners get a percentage of the revenue.

The cost of the condo hotel rooms run from $470,000 to just over $1.25 million. So far, more than 50 units have been sold. The 17-floor resort is part of the mixed-use Aqualea complex, which features 18 condo residences. Just one of the units, which range in price from about $2 million to $5.5 million, is under contract. But Rauenhorst says they're not even on the market yet.

His team plans to build the hotel business and as the market firms up for condominium sales, they'll be ready, Rauenhorst said.

The hotel debuts after a tough year for the hospitality business.

"With the drop in demand, a lot of luxury hotels drop their rates," said George Glover, chairman and chief executive officer of Tampa-based BayStar, which develops, buys and runs hotels throughout the southeast. "The segment of the business that has lost the least from an occupancy standpoint is the luxury segment. But they've lost strong in rates."

Things weren't so bad for the Sandpearl Resort, a luxury beach hotel that opened on Clearwater Beach in August 2007, said general manager Stuart Arp.

Last year, business was pretty much the same as in 2008, said Arp, who maintained that his resort avoided cutting rates.

"Part of the thing that insulated us a little bit is that we're a relatively new property," he said.

And luxury hotels like his fill a niche, he said.

"There is not a lot on the west coast of Florida that really can offer what we have here," Arp said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

By the numbers

250 Number of rooms, all luxury suites, at the resort hotel.

750 Number of parking spaces the resort's parking garage will have, 400 of which will be dedicated to the public.

$265 -$620 Cost range to stay in a suite, per night.

60 Number of days an owner can stay in a luxury suite if they buy one (the buyer gets a percentage from Hyatt when it is rented).

$470,000 Starting price to buy a suite; they go up to $1.25 million.

50+ Number of suites that have been sold.

New Clearwater Beach Hyatt an instant landmark 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 9:00pm]
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