MADEIRA BEACH — City officials are considering increasing density and possibly building heights to attract development of major hotels in Madeira Beach.
"We desperately need a hotel. We have to do it or die on the vine as a tourist city," Mayor Pat Shontz said Tuesday.
City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr., armed with the support of a majority of his commission, is gathering information on just what it would take to bring hotels back to the city.
"For a city to get a flag hotel like a Holiday Inn, a Hampton Inn or a Fairfield Inn, they need at least 80 units to make it practical," Higginbotham said. "Madeira Beach now permits 60 units per acre. No one is interested in doing that."
He said several developers recently contacted him about building hotels in the city but said the city's current top density of 60 units per acre is too low.
"I want to see if we can come up with a density that will encourage development of hotels and tourist facilities. The community does not want any further development of condos because they do not stimulate economic activity," Higginbotham said.
He is looking at Clearwater's Beach by Design Plan as one development model. That plan allows a density of between 150 and 210 tourist lodging units per acre on smaller properties.
He said a density of 120 units per acre, double the city's current density, would allow an 80-unit hotel on a three-quarter acre property.
Higginbotham plans to "inventory" vacant and for sale properties on the beach as part of his study. He plans to report back to the commission in October.
How an increase in allowable density would affect building height restrictions is not clear. In addition to taller buildings, density can be increased by reducing or even eliminating setback requirements, usually as part of a planned unit development project.
The county does allow local municipalities to increase density and building height for new hotels and motels as a way to encourage development of transient lodging for tourists.
Whatever proposal Higginbotham does make, it will have to be approved not only by the City Commission but also by the Pinellas Planning Council, the County Commission and the state, he said.
"If we ever want hotels again, we have to pursue this," Vice Mayor Nancy Oakley said during a recent commission discussion.
The city's last major hotel, the 149-room Holiday Inn on Gulf Boulevard, shut its doors in 2004.
It was torn down to be replaced the following year by a condominium, the Sereno of Madeira Beach, a five-story building containing 44 luxury homes.
"We worked like the dickens to get that Holiday Inn and it's gone. When the Holiday Inn went, it affected the restaurants and shops on north end of Madeira Beach The town is about dead except for John's Pass," Shontz said.
Although the city still has a number of mom-and-pop hotels, they are disappearing, too. In the past seven years, the city has lost more than 200 tourist rooms. All were replaced by condominiums.
In 2005, the city hoped redevelopment of a 2.2-acre site on the mainland side of the Madeira Beach bridge would include a flagship hotel, but those plans never materialized and condominiums were built instead.
Those motels and condo-hotel units that are left are not enough to attract the number of tourists needed to keep the city alive as a tourist destination, according to Shontz.
"We need to do something with Madeira Beach. We desperately need hotel redevelopment," Shontz said.
The loss of hotel rooms has affected other beach cities as well.
The Ramada Inn in Treasure Island closed in 2004 to be replaced by a condo-hotel.
A year later, the former Buccaneer Motel, also in Treasure Island, was demolished. That property remains vacant, and its present owners have, so far unsuccessfully, asked the city to consider allowing a higher density development of the site.
The property owners proposed building a boutique hotel with both standard hotel rooms and hotel suites. They said they needed a minimum of 130 units to be profitable.