The hotel business is struggling, with corporate travel in retreat and vacationers gripping their wallets tightly.
Yet Dilip Kanji seemed downright serene on opening day for his $65-million Westin on Tampa's Rocky Point. He'd made smart moves, like building on the site of a Days Inn he owned since 1993. Kanji scrapped plans for a condo tower next door just before residential housing sales tanked.
"The (hotel's) cost is at a level where I'm confident we can make money," he said Thursday. "Like any businessman, I have sleepless nights. But it's a great location. And it's not a 500-room hotel."
The 255-room hotel is the latest of the brand's "compact" Westins for cities a notch down from New York or Chicago. Instead of two or three dining choices, the smaller properties offer a single brand-name restaurant. They have about half as many rooms, a third of the meeting space and no spa, though spa services are available in guest rooms.
The hotel offers mid-upscale amenities: 24-hour room service, concierge desk, a full-scale Starbucks, an executive level and lounge for the chain's elite-level customers. Regular room rates run from $179 to $279 per night, more for a suite and during special events.
Executives for the Westin brand picked the name Westin Tampa Bay Airport to attract business travelers. But the location on Rocky Point along the Courtney Campbell Parkway, once home to strip clubs and cheap food joints, now provides soaring views of Old Tampa Bay on three sides.
"I can virtually guarantee every room we have has a great view," Kanji said. "We're a calm location that gives you a Florida feel.''
Chief executive of Impact Properties, Kanji built his first hotel — a Best Western in Brandon — in 1985. He gained a reputation for following through in a place where many projects die on the drawing board.
After buying the Rocky Point Days Inn, he built a Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express nearby. The Westin makes eight hotels that Impact, owned primarily by Kanji and family members, owns and operates in Florida.
Impact held three job fairs since September. More than 1,000 applicants showed up at its offices for 80 jobs in the hotel and 80 at Aquaknox, a seafood restaurant that leases space in the Westin.
"Sometimes, the lobby was full of people waiting to fill out applications," Kanji said. "It's a telltale sign of the economy."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 256-3384