CITRUS PARK — Imagine: a hotel, a corporate office park, an upscale restaurant.
Now picture all of that behind the combined Marathon gas station and McDonald's in Citrus Park, a community known more for its little red schoolhouse and orange groves than filet mignon and Holiday Inns.
That's the vision of Christopher Daye, who wants to develop the area's first hotel as part of a $40 million to $45 million multiuse development, which he now calls Citrus Park Crossings, along the Upper Tampa Bay Trail.
"We're not talking about putting in a Days Inn or a Howard Johnson," he said. "We're talking about something on the level of the new Holiday Inn, Hilton Garden Inn or better — the type of hotel you would see in the West Shore district around those corporate office buildings around International Plaza."
Daye recently announced that he closed on four parcels of land to further his plans. Much of the 5.8 acres belonged to longtime Citrus Park homeowners who agreed to sell.
It wouldn't be the first hotel in northwest Hillsborough. That distinction goes to the Hampton Inn on Waters Avenue and the Veterans Expressway. But it would be the first one in the 33625 and 33626 ZIP codes, an area that has experienced a development boom since the Westfield Citrus Park mall opened 10 years ago.
"Whenever you have a major suburban mall, you typically see other uses spring up around it," Daye said. "Corporate office, hotel. We just have a lot of those things missing in Citrus Park."
At a time when green living is the new mantra, and the White House is promoting stronger work-life balance, Daye said the development's proximity to the Upper Tampa Bay Trail is a unique selling point. "If someone wants to go out at noon, take a jog, ride their bike, clean up, go back to work, you can," he said.
Ground has not broken on the project, but a sign marks the spot where the 251,982-square-foot complex will sit. "It's our sincere hope to have a building standing there in the next two to three years," said Daye, who lives in nearby Odessa and has done work on the mall, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Cancer Survivor's Plaza next to Raymond James Stadium.
The project will feature two 100-foot-high buildings. Standalone convenience stores, fast food chains and banks will not be allowed.
Instead, there will be a five-story parking garage, a maximum of 143,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of retail and a restaurant that may have outdoor seating.
"We need a restaurant in the area that's just that one notch better than Outback," Daye said. "Something that's not necessarily a chain, but something that is a unique, entrepreneurial, chef-based type restaurant, a City Fish in Oldsmar."
And it will also consist of the 150-room hotel, which would run anywhere from $89 to $129 a night.
Not everyone shares Daye's enthusiasm for a hotel in Citrus Park.
"A number of seasoned hotel developers have scouted out the area in past years only to find that it is not a great place to build a hotel product," said Lou Plasencia, chief executive of the Plasencia Group in Tampa, which brokers hotel sales nationwide and has had a hand in buying, selling or repositioning some of Tampa Bay's best known hotels.
He said there is not enough consistent, high-rated demand in Citrus Park, at least not yet. "Once you have 1 to 2 million square feet of office space in the area, only then might the construction of a new property be prudent," Plasencia said.
But Daye thinks Citrus Park is ready for a hotel sooner rather than later. And he has the backing of Hillsborough County, which rezoned the property last year to make way for the project.
"It's kind of the last commercial mode, if you will, of Hillsborough County in the northwest area," he said. "You take the suburban areas around Atlanta and you look at how the corporate office growth has brought all the other development and it's followed the bedrooms. That's really what we need to do out here. We've got thousands of nice homes that have no corporate office adjacency to them."
Whether Citrus Park Crossings gets built in two to three years depends, too, on market conditions, which are not favorable now.
Anybody who has followed news about the hotel industry knows that it is in the doldrums. The recession has stymied projects across the nation. According to Lodging Econometrics, a self-described global authority on hotel real estate, more than 400 projects were canceled in 2008 — the most recorded since the research firm started tracking hotel projects in 1995.
Eleven Tampa Bay area hotels were canceled or delayed in 2008, up from six the previous year. Only eight projects broke ground last year, down from 14 in 2007.
"Hotel financing at this time is particularly difficult," said George Glover, president of BayStar Hotel Group in Tampa, which developed the first hotel in northwest Hillsborough in 2001. "There just aren't monies available for new developments from conventional funding sources."
The permit for Citrus Park Crossings is good through February 2011, so Daye says he won't force a deal right now given the economy.
He will focus on developing the corporate office park first and on building a potential customer base to support the hotel. Already, Daye is in negotiations with what he would only describe as a "60,000-square-foot end user."
"There are several large tenants walking around Tampa Bay who are looking for 100,000 to 125,000 square feet of space," he said. "We're creating an opportunity where once people come to the corporate office destination, once people are at the hotel from the airport, they frankly might not need to get into an automobile for the rest of the day."
Big Cat Rescue, the exotic animal sanctuary on Easy Street that will sit next to the development, hopes Daye's plans for a hotel come to fruition.
"We frequently are finding an increasing number of people coming to Tampa just for us," said Howard Baskin, chairman of the advisory board for Big Cat, which averages 25,000 visitors a year. "Often we are asked, 'Where should we stay?' It would be ideal to have a hotel right next to us that we could send people to."
Information from Times archives was used in this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 269-5303.