TAMPA — Once it was the Hyatt Regency Tampa. Now it's the Hotel Tampa. By the end of the year, it will be the Hilton Hotel Downtown Tampa.
That's because the 521-room hotel at 211 N Tampa St. is undergoing a metamorphosis since its Nov. 19 purchase by Driftwood Hospitality Management LLC.
The South Florida company specializes in buying, upgrading and selling hotel properties across the country. Now it's turning the downtown Hyatt into a downtown Hilton, spending $13 million to turn it into a four-star luxury hotel that the company believes the Tampa market needs.
"We liked the real estate, we liked the market," said Steve Johnson, Driftwood's executive vice president for acquisitions. "We've operated in the market before, so we know it very well.
"We felt like this was an asset that was in good shape. But with the dollars we're going to spend, we take it up a notch and compete with the Tampa Marriott Waterside and the Embassy Suites Tampa."
The project has four pillars: redo the first-floor lobby; upgrade guest and meetings rooms; move the Avanzare Lounge restaurant and bar to the north side of the building; and bring downtown's newest Starbucks to Tampa Street.
The addition of Starbucks could catch the attention of nearby office dwellers. The closest one is a half mile away, at the Tampa Embassy Suites at 513 S Florida Ave., by the Tampa Convention Center. The closest freestanding Starbucks to downtown is 1.5 miles away on Kennedy Boulevard, but patrons have to leave downtown to get to it. It would also give downtown coffee stalwart Kawha, which has two locations, some competition.
In fact, by putting the Avanzare and Starbucks along Tampa Street, Driftwood hopes to attract the downtown office crowd to their corner for coffee, lunch, drinks and dinner, and create some buzz for Tampa's new Hilton.
"We hope to increase the traffic from the local office tenants," Johnson said, "and just make the feel of the lobby a lot more inviting."
The new lobby should be done by the summer, and then the hotel will undergo a third name change to the Hilton Hotel Downtown Tampa. The rest of the renovations should be completed by the fourth quarter of this year. The hotel also has a heated outdoor pool, rooftop whirlpool and fitness center that will undergo minor upgrades.
Driftwood did not disclose the purchase price, but Johnson said the company got a good price in a down market. This is the company's latest foray into Tampa. In 2004 the company purchased the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel Tampa, spent nearly $9 million to turn it into the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel, then resold it 2007 for an undisclosed price.
"We've studied the market for almost 10 years, and we feel it's a very stable market that doesn't go up much but it doesn't go down much, either," Johnson said. "We see the Tampa market as being a steady revenue growth market, and we felt that the Hyatt was well-positioned as far as a location.
"With the renovations and the name change we could increase the revenue at the hotel to make it a very solid investment."
In November, Hyatt filed notice with the state that it intended to lay off 222 hotel workers. Johnson said that was for legal purposes. Most of the hotel's staff has been retained, and only Hyatt management have department. Driftwood brought in its own management staff.
Driftwood also isn't worried that customers will be confused by a hotel that will undergo two name changes in a year. The hotel is already in the Hilton chain's system and honoring Hilton rewards customers, he said. But until the renovations are done, it's not yet worthy of the Hilton name, Johnson said.
"Once the lobby is completed," he said, "then the hotel will be transformed."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected].