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Hotels seek city's blessing to merge into single resort

(ran Beach edition)

The owners of the Best Western Sirata Beach Resort and the Quality Inn plan to merge the two hotels into one resort, add a tower with 74 new rooms and build a new conference center.

The new 377-room hotel and 10,000-square-foot conference center still will be called the Sirata Beach Resort. But Nicklaus of Florida Inc., which owns the resorts, is considering affiliating with a new hotel chain after the $10-million project is completed.

The additional rooms would be contained in an eight-story tower, located beside and designed like the existing teal and purple Quality Inn, 5300 Gulf Blvd.

"With two hotels, it's probably not as efficient as it should be now," said Deborah Nicklaus, whose family owns Nicklaus Inc. "When people come here with conventions, they sometimes wonder why they're staying at two hotels. It will be easier to market when it's all one resort."

Nicklaus now needs the city's permission to go ahead.

The 80-foot tower would be taller than a city height limit of 50 feet. The plans will be debated at the Planning and Zoning Board meeting set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive.

City staffers note in a report that the new, tall tower will affect surrounding development. But they say they think the request is reasonable.

A two-story parking garage, new walkways across the property and tropical landscaping also are planned on the 12.6-acre site. A unified color scheme with a Caribbean flavor will unite the properties, Nicklaus said.

The consolidation of smaller properties into larger hotels is a natural trend along the Gulf Coast. The TradeWinds Resort, also in St. Pete Beach, grew to its current size by consolidating nearby properties.

But while hotels like the TradeWinds and the Don CeSar Beach Resort focus on large groups, Nicklaus said the new Sirata will try to attract slightly smaller conventions and gatherings to St. Pete Beach.

If the planning board approves the new Sirata Tuesday, Nicklaus said, she hopes the project can be finished next year.

In addition to considering the Sirata's proposed plans, the Planning and Zoning Board is also set to give final approval to a plan to build a new Kash n' Karry supermarket at 7625 Blind Pass Road.

The property is owned by JEM Investments Ltd. of Tampa. But the company still has not finalized a lease with Kash n' Karry for the new building, according to Kash n' Karry spokeswoman Tawn Earnest. Earnest declined to discuss further details of the project.

The proposal is for a new 25,500-square-foot building to replace the aging 14,000-square-foot grocery store on two acres of land just west of City Hall.

Tampa architect Richard Hartmann, who is designing the new store, had informed the city last fall that the $2-million store could be open late this year _ if construction started April 1.

The Planning Board will consider allowing the store's owners to have 18 fewer parking spaces than required under city law and about 15 percent more paved surface than is normally permitted.