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Sound rattles Harbour Island hotel guests and management

Jim Walsh wasn't in town to party. He accompanied his wife to Tampa last month for an education conference. They stayed at the host hotel, the Marriott Waterside.

At midnight, the music began. Bass beats shook the windows of their room on the 27th floor and kept the Colorado couple awake until 2:30 a.m.

They didn't complain that Friday, thinking a loud wedding reception had been scheduled downstairs. But Saturday at midnight, the familiar pounding returned.

Walsh called the front desk, asking the hotel to turn down the volume. But an employee told him the noise was coming from a bar called Jackson's Bistro, across the channel.

The scene was among the latest in a skirmish pitting popular convention hotels on the water against Harbour Island's signature spot for nightlife.

Noise from Jackson's has plagued the hotel for about a year, according to Marriott Waterside manager David Offenhauser.

"On Fridays and Saturdays, they have speakers that give off a tremendous amount of noise," he said. "The sound travels over the channel and hits our tower."

Each weekend, the hotel gets an average of five to 10 noise complaints, Offenhauser said. He tries to keep people off the side of the hotel that faces Jackson's. But on busy nights, there's not much he can do.

The problem has cost the hotel thousands of dollars in compensated rooms. "It's definitely having a huge effect on our business," Offenhauser said.

The neighboring Embassy Suites has the same problem.

"We have certain rooms we don't put guests in," said Embassy Suites manager Jeff Weinthaler. He says Jackson's has sent managers to the hotel to listen to the noise, but the problem hasn't been resolved.

"We've had numerous conversations with them," Offenhauser said. "Every time we talk to them, they say 'We'll do this. We'll do that.' "

The hotels have gotten Tampa police involved.

Capt. Marc Hamlin says Jackson's hasn't been found in violation of the city noise ordinance. Officers use sound readers to test decibel levels on the ground. They've never tested noise across the water.

"I'm no sound expert by any means, but I can only assume the water helps carry the noise," Hamlin said.

Jackson's Bistro opened its doors in 1997 and has become an after-work hangout for area professionals. On weekends, the restaurant often features live entertainment and DJs, drawing crowds.

The Marriott opened in 2000, and Embassy Suites in 2006. But police say noise complaints started just a year ago. Across the channel on the other side of Jackson's, the Westin Tampa Harbour Island has not contacted police with problems. Calls to that hotel were not returned for this story.

Jackson's general manager Eric Litchfield didn't go into detail about whether anything had changed in the past year and wouldn't talk about specific complaints he received.

But he did say: "We're doing everything we can. Any time anyone has an issue, we're happy to accommodate and work with everyone.

Hamlin said that Jackson's has installed a new sound design since the problems started.

Yet, the noise persists. The night Walsh was awakened, a Marriott employee asked if he wanted to file a report with the police. Instead, Walsh opted to send the hotel manager an angry e-mail three days later.

"We would NOT stay with your hotel again, and will actively suggest that our organization encourage others to look elsewhere as well," Walsh wrote. "Aggravating hundreds of senior school district administrators does not speak well for your hotel, or Tampa as a convention destination."

Amy Vogt, the media relations manager for the American Association of School Administrators, said convention organizers hadn't heard about noise complaints.

Steve Hayes, executive vice president of the convention and visitor's bureau Tampa Bay & Co., said the association's conference and its 6,000 participants generated $6.9-million for the local economy.

Just as important as bringing guests to Tampa is keeping them happy while they're here, he said. Whenever Hayes hears about a problem with taxis, or restaurants, or cabs, he alerts the companies. He hadn't heard about the noise situation between the hotels and Jackson's, but is now looking into it.

Capt. Hamlin is organizing a meeting between Jackson's, the Marriott and Embassy Suites. He says Litchfield and the Jackson's staff are working on a solution.

"We want to be good neighbors," Litchfield said.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Sound rattles Harbour Island hotel guests and management 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 5:01am]
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