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Entrepreneur stays devoted to resort

A man who owns a Mercedes, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini may seem out of place inside a $49-per-night Days Inn.

Yet Kiran Patel was shuffling between motel rooms last week surveying the fruits of his $40-million purchase, one of the priciest land grabs in Pinellas County history.

He decided to spend a couple of nights there, as his six-bedroom Tampa home was being tented for termites.

"It was bad," said Patel, who spent two nights at the Days Inn. "Anything is better than what is there today."

A cardiologist turned entrepreneur and philanthropist, Patel has become the shepherd for hotelier Tony Markopoulos' dream of a landmark resort on south Clearwater Beach. In his first days on the job planning and building a luxury hotel, Patel, 55, has learned it won't be easy.

"Instead of having a great life without any tension, I've created my own stress," Patel said.

In return, his plan has worried city officials.

The proposed Clearwater Beach Resort would dwarf anything on the beach today. At 150-feet high and close to 500-feet across, the 425-unit building first proposed by Markopoulos would be colossal. Like Markopoulos, Patel sees the resort as a city landmark.

City officials fear the building's size would leave residents sour.

The city's planning department has already said it cannot support the project, and several City Council members have similarly been baffled by its design.

"The mass of the building, to me, is too large," said council member Frank Hibbard.

Despite a public debate for months about Markopoulos' plans, Patel said he was caught off guard by the city's concerns. A strict confidentiality agreement enforced by Markopoulos stopped Patel from speaking with city officials before he purchased the motel properties Sept. 17.

Brian Taub, who plans to develop a Hyatt hotel south of Patel's 2.7 acres, said he's paying less than $20-million for 1.6 acres on S Gulfview Boulevard. Taub's sale will be finalized next month.

Markopoulos accumulated his land over several years for around $11-million. City Manager Bill Horne expected Markopoulos could sell for $25-million. Other developers and city officials thought maybe $30-million.

But no one saw $40-million coming.

"Maybe I overpaid," Patel said. "But all my life I have done things by gut, how I feel. And like most people, I have had some failures and had some good ones. I don't know if what I'm getting into is good or bad. Time will tell."

Up until now, Patel has shied away from real estate ventures. A doctor trained in Africa, he moved to New York on Thanksgiving 1976 and relocated to Tampa six years later. He built up his own medical practice before he created WellCare HMO, which turned into a $1-billion-a-year business.

Patel sold WellCare in 2002 and since, he's been looking for work. He's built a 200-bed hospital in India and, along with his wife Pallavi, Patel has donated millions of dollars to local charities.

He hadn't seen the Days Inn and other motel properties until six weeks ago, he said.

"Stand there in the evening and look at the sunset _ there's no question you want to be there," Patel said.

Unlike Markopoulos' proposed resort, which he wanted to manage independently, Patel said he will attract a well-known chain for his project.

He will also conduct an independent study to determine if a car elevator in the hotel will create the traffic backlog some city officials had worried about. If it seems to pose a problem, Patel said he is willing to alter the plans.

He isn't as flexible when it comes to the size of the 14-story resort.

"The mass is already there. I'm replacing it with better mass," said Patel, who might create a three-dimensional video to demonstrate his point. "I have walked there, I have seen the buildings. In all honesty, the mass is already there."

Without assurances he can build, the idea of spending $40-million is a risk, developers say.

Patel's team, which he is still building, has entered negotiations with the city. A site plan for the project has been approved, but the City Council must still okay three concessions before construction can begin.

And only one council member, Hoyt Hamilton, has expressed enthusiasm about the project.

"The property is one that we'd like to see redeveloped," said council member Bill Jonson, whose position is similar to the rest of the council. "It does have a lot of potential. But whoever owns it needs to go the proper steps to ensure we have a product that is consistent with the city's vision and plans for the beach."

Patel is interested to hear if their plans can coincide with his $40-million investment. He knows his purchase was a big risk, but unlike other developers who live off the profits, Patel said even a dud won't break him financially.

Not that failure is in his plans.

"Only God knows if I was stupid or not," Patel said. "Leave it up to God and be prepared to run a motel."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 445-4160 or asharockmansptimes.com.

CLEARWATER BEACH RESORT PLANS, BY THE NUMBERS

OWNER: Dr. Kiran C. Patel

ARCHITECT: Morris Architects, Orlando

LOCATION: South of the roundabout between Coronado Drive and S Gulfview Boulevard.

LAND: 2.7 acres now occupied by the Day's Inn, Beach Towers, Spy Glass and Golden Beach motels

+ 14 stories

+ 150 feet tall

+ 350 hotel rooms

+ 75 condominiums

+ 37,000 square feet of meeting and retail space

+ 620 parking spaces

+ 100 public parking spaces

HIGHLIGHTS: Project, as proposed, includes two fifth-floor pools, an outdoor cafe along S Gulfview Boulevard, valet garage service, automobile elevator lifts and a pedestrian bridge to the beach.

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