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Developer gets approval to renovate Dunedin's Fenway Hotel

DUNEDIN — For decades, it was a lavish hotel, living out the Jazz Age on the shores of St . Joseph Sound.

It became a college. Then it emptied. Filled at times by private schools, it sat on Edgewater Drive a relic of years past.

Now, with final approval by the Dunedin City Commission, a local developer hopes to renovate the Fenway Hotel back to the former glory of its 1920s origins.

St. Petersburg attorney and developer George Rahdert said with a little work it could become a miniature version of the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa or Renaissance Vinoy Resort, classic getaways on the National Register of Historic Places.

"For starters, they were all built in the same era," Rahdert said. "They all have the same grace and elegance. They all have the same potential."

The 5-acre property will feature at least 118 hotel rooms, a restaurant, a ballroom, a health spa, a pool and space for meeting and shops. The renovations will take "many millions of dollars" to implement, Rahdert said. But by the end of construction, the exterior, kept as close to its original yellow as possible, will remain the same.

Rahdert, who represents the St. Petersburg Times on First Amendment issues, has faced a number of obstacles in planning the renovation. His original plan, which included a two-floor parking garage and 250 rooms, was attacked by nearby home­owners for posing a possibly mammoth obtrusion to an otherwise quiet coast.

It's much smaller now — or, in Rahdert's hotel speak, "much more intimate." The compromise took more than three years of public discussion and work with the city. Rahdert said he also has included another change of plans to appease surrounding residents: a wall on all sides to keep in noise and lights.

City officials said Thursday they hope the jewel box hotel will entice tourists, travelers and their vacation spending to Dunedin's downtown and waterfront. A shuttle to Caladesi Island, a health club opened to local members and an ice cream shop may also attract local residents as well.

The Fenway needs a few more inspections and permits before crews will be able to begin work. Rahdert expects the four-star hotel could be open within 12 to 16 months. He has yet to set a price for the grandeur.

"To renovate it back to the days of old is something we really value," said Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers. "It's going to be a wonderful addition."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Developer gets approval to renovate Dunedin's Fenway Hotel 08/21/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 8:54pm]
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