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Beach hoteliers say guests want newer, bigger, taller

CLEARWATER — Call it the beach version of keeping up with the Joneses.

The Sea Captain Resort, a Clearwater Beach motel that dates to the 1950s, is two stories tall. Its next-door neighbor used to be the four-story Port Vue Motel, but that has been razed to make way for a 10-story Holiday Inn Express.

The Sea Captain's owner fears that his new neighbor will dwarf his motel and hide it from tourists on Coronado Drive. "We'll be looking up at a wall," Don Eifert said.

To survive, Eifert has hatched plans to build upward, too. The blue-colored Sea Captain at 40 Devon Drive may face the wrecking ball to clear the way for a nine-story replacement.

Tonight, the Clearwater City Council will decide whether to award the proposed hotel 53 rooms beyond what would normally be allowed there. The city allows beach hotel developers to draw units from a pool of 1,385 extra rooms, building more rooms than they otherwise could per acre.

The so-called "density pool" was created in 2008 as an incentive to build mid-sized, mid-priced hotels on the beach, many of which Clearwater has lost to condominium construction.

Eifert has mixed feelings about saying goodbye to the Sea Captain, which is near where a pirate cruise ship docks at Clearwater Municipal Marina.

"Just like everything else, it served its purpose. But times change," he said. "It was originally built as a mom-and-pop hotel, and those are gone. What people were happy with 60 years ago, they don't want anymore. They gravitate to the newer hotels."

If the council gives its approval, the 27-room Sea Captain will be replaced by an 85-room limited-service hotel with no restaurant or meeting space. It would have a 93-space parking garage. Eifert would have four years to begin construction.

"I guess it comes down to supply and demand," Eifert said. "It's hard to make a 27-room hotel financially feasible in the modern economic climate."

To get extra hotel rooms, developers must meet parking and design guidelines specified by the city's "Beach by Design" plan.

The 10-story Holiday Inn Express that is to be built next to the Sea Captain will have 108 rooms — 72 of them awarded from the density pool — even though Paul Gibson and other council members complained that its design looked boxy and that the building would occupy most of its lot, with few setbacks.

City Council members had a number of questions about the Sea Captain development project at their work session Tuesday.

George Cretekos, who's concerned about noise levels on the beach, wondered if the new hotel would have any plans for live music.

Planning director Michael Delk said the hotel would have a pool but not a bar or lounge. He said it would be "challenging if not impossible" for the hotel to add anything else to its small site.

The city sees higher density levels on the beach as a way to build back some of the inventory the hotel industry lost during the condo boom. Officials capped the pool of extra rooms at 1,385 units because the new traffic would be all the beach could handle.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Beach hoteliers say guests want newer, bigger, taller 01/12/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 5:10pm]
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