Not since it reopened in 1992 has the Renaissance Vinoy Resort undergone such a metamorphosis. For almost two decades the lobby had one row of sofas and chairs with seating for about 25, a cramped bar with four stools, and a long, stately check-in desk. Now it has five sitting areas akin to posh living rooms with seating for about 50 people among the glam furniture, starburst lighting and contemporary art. The rugs are colored with waves and swirls of bold turquoise and brown. The check-in area has been moved to the west end of the lobby and consists of three sleek stone tables with huge vintage black-and-white photos of the hotel in ornate gold frames.
There is now a much larger interior bar, and another one has been added to the porch. White curtains blow in the breeze on that historic front veranda, where floral fabrics have been replaced with crisp whites.
Like the Loews Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, which also boasts a newly renovated lobby, the Vinoy is keeping up with the tastes of younger guests who prefer a hipper, bold style over a stately or Old Florida look. The 86-year-old hotel is part of the Renaissance Hotels chain. The company is redoing its lobbies across the country and around the world to create lounges and libraries.
"I think all brands, Renaissance and Loews, are looking at the future. If you have a historic hotel you are still staying relevant to the customers just coming up through the ranks," said Russ Bond, Vinoy general manager.
"Up until now the tendency was to check in, go to your room, hunker down and order room service and work on your laptop," he said. "Now it's the younger generation that wants to be out and be part of things going on. It's a lot more about socialization."
Advances in technology also eliminate the need for bulky computers, printers and storage files at a check-in desk. So by moving the former lobby desk and office space to the other side of the lobby, it freed up room for the luxurious sitting areas dripping with silk, velvet, leather and gold.
"I think there may be a certain demographic that says, wow, this is not what it used to be and I'm not happy with the changes you made," Bond said. But most guests and locals are raving about the new lobby look and configuration. Pinellas residents from all over are meeting at the Vinoy lobby for a drink before or after hitting restaurants or shopping on Beach Drive, he said.
"The bar situation and the functionality of the lobby never was right," he added. The new coffee shop and cafe with prepared foods is also a big hit. The offerings include every form of coffee as well as mango chicken salad, hummus, wedges of cheese, turkey wraps and yogurt.
The cafe will expand soon since Ami Jewelers has just moved out. Bond declined to reveal how much was spent on the renovation, which was overseen by the Leo A Daly design firm in Dallas.
The next project will be a renovation of the spa and surrounding area that will increase the size from 3,000 to 8,000 square feet without calling for new construction. This may start in late 2012 or 2013.
As the bills roll in for all the updating, developments in St. Petersburg's art world are boosting business.
"Our occupancy is way up over 2010. Some of that is the economy, some because it's post-oil spill, and there has got to be a cultural and arts factor as well," Bond said. "We love the fact that the Dalí is succeeding, Chihuly is succeeding and the Museum of Fine Arts is as well."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.