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Tampa Bay tourism spots feeling pinch from cold weather

At Woody’s Waterfront in St. Pete Beach, outside tables sit empty Sunday. “On a normal Sunday, everyone is spread out all over and all the tables are taken,” said Mike Buckley, who winters in St. Petersburg and lives in St. Louis the rest of the year.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

At Woody’s Waterfront in St. Pete Beach, outside tables sit empty Sunday. “On a normal Sunday, everyone is spread out all over and all the tables are taken,” said Mike Buckley, who winters in St. Petersburg and lives in St. Louis the rest of the year.

ST. PETERSBURG — As a bundled-up family of four walked briskly toward the Pier, Allison Bechtel slipped off her socks, walked across the empty Spa Beach and dipped her feet in the water.

She wore a thin jacket Sunday afternoon as she stood, without shivering, in the chilly breeze.

"I'm from Ohio, so it's not that bad," said Bechtel, who spent her first day in town surveying St. Petersburg. "I wanted to be able to brag to my friends up North."

Brag? The huddled masses freezing during our record-breaking cold spell may disagree. While some, like Bechtel, have found lots to like in the winter, many Tampa Bay tourist stops are feeling the freeze in their patios, parks and pocketbooks.

"It hasn't been this bad for a while," said Andy Moritz, manager of the Hurricane on Pass-a-Grille Beach. The restaurant's rooftop bar was closed all weekend, and the indoor bar staff was cut by a third. "We're seeing basically half our business. We lost a lot."

The Plantation Palms Golf Club in Land O'Lakes saw 20 rounds of golf Sunday, a ninth of its business from two weeks back, said pro shop clerk Tim Lanzone. And even that was more than expected.

"Today was slow because people are normal if they don't come out," Lanzone said with a laugh. "People are coming out wearing eight layers and the sock hat and the gloves on each hand. They're definitely bundled up."

A winter's chill on business is nothing new. But service staff said this year's long swath of freezing temperatures has brought with it unusually weak sales.

"Tonight, as soon as the sun goes down, it'll be a ghost town," said Kenny Leonard, a bartender at Woody's Waterfront on St. Pete Beach. "Our staff is hurting a little bit. … Servers are saying they're broke."

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo's special $5 admission day, which usually draws up to three times the typical attendance, saw only a few thousand people Sunday.

"Temperature tolerance varies by species, including humans," said spokeswoman Rachel Nelson, who added that the zoo may schedule another $5 day to make up for the low turnout. "Quite honestly, we're thrilled that nearly 3,000 people braved the cold to come to the zoo."

There are signs the freeze may let up soon. Robert Micklitsch, one of the family members who runs the Keystone Motel on St. Pete Beach, said reservations have picked up for the end of the week, when Bay News 9 meteorologists predict highs in the 70s.

"They're watching the weather very closely," Micklitsch said. "As soon as they know it's broken, they're setting their flights up."

And at the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach, vacationers from New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio continue to ask for activities, regardless of the climate.

"The sun's still shining on the beach and warming up our lovely resort. We've still got the same gorgeous view," said concierge Patti Abate. "There's a light at the end of the tunnel."

Some tourists have found perks in the wintry weather. The outdoor campus of Busch Gardens saw a number of tourists venture into Sunday's 30-degree winds.

"We like to call it braving the chill to get the thrill," said spokesman Nick Gollattscheck. "People are still wanting to ride roller coasters. It brings a different level of excitement to it."

Excitement or not, local businesses will take whatever they can get as the cold continues.

Diners at Fresco's Waterfront Bistro in downtown St. Petersburg sat at several outdoor tables during Sunday brunch using space heaters for warmth, although the restaurant had room inside.

"It is a beautiful day," said host Courtney McElveen. "Maybe just 10 degrees (higher) would be nice."

Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay tourism spots feeling pinch from cold weather 01/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 9:41pm]
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