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A sneak peek at Tampa's newest boutique hotel: Current

The rooftop bar at Current hotel in Rocky Point on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jun. 3

TAMPA — At hotel Current, the only kind of entrance guests can make is grand.

Inside, the lobby is head-to-toe marble. The ornate black ceiling is crafted to look like a rippling wave, guiding eyes to the Rocky Point hotel's leading asset: a view of the surrounding water.

"You can see both Tampa and St. Petersburg's skylines from here," said Stan Lifsey, whose grandfather started developing the Tampa island in the 1960s. "We're right on the doorstep of Tampa Bay."

Rocky Point juts out into the bay, the Courtney Campbell acting as its artery to the mainland. More than 50 years ago, the late Julian Lifsey began buying up island parcels to develop. Now, his grandson is leading the largest Rocky Point project his family has ever shepherded: the 180-room hotel set to open in June. Julian, who died at 72 in 1989, always thought Rocky Point was perfect for an upscale hotel.

But it's not until the last few years that Tampa and its growing number of visitors made it possible for that vision to materialize.

Stan Lifsey, the president at Lifsey Real Estate Holdings, is among a number of developers adding to Hillsborough's hotel inventory. Visit Tampa Bay anticipates 2,000 new hotel rooms will be added to Hillsborough County over the next two years. The key, experts say, is that new hotels fill gaps in the current offerings rather than just compete with existing businesses.

"Market growth without profitability is a non-starter," said Bob Morrison, the director of the Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association. "The good fortune of our market is we're testing a unique moment where we're able to add inventory while continuing to grow and sustain profitability."

Several large planned hotel projects, like the coming 26-story J.W. Marriott on Water Street, left space for the boutique market. Lifsey and his team identified that customer: someone who not only wants luxury, but also wants an experience they can only have around Tampa Bay.

As the region's "doorstep," the new hotel has Tampa Bay flare. A short drive from the airport, the Current is likely to be many guests' first real taste of Tampa. Oxford Exchange will run a high-end lobby shop called Curated, the bar will serve coffee from local roaster Buddy Brew and area artists' works will cover the walls. Even a special locally brewed Current craft beer is in the works.

Outside, the hotel has a crystal blue infinity pool and an area to launch into the bay on paddle boards. Every room has hardwood floors and tall windows with waterfront views.

Lifsey envisions the hotel feeding into a live, work, play atmosphere on the island. This "urban oasis" isn't just for tourists. After 5 p.m. every day, locals will be able to access the rooftop lounge — the Rox — to sip on cocktails and watch the sunset over the water. They can see planes take off from the airport and cars flood the bridge from the comfort of a lounge chair.

The developer hopes employees from neighboring office buildings will come to happy hour and the island's condo residents will head to the in-house restaurant named after Lifsey's grandfather, Julian, for a gourmet dinner featuring international small plates.

Lifsey and his relatives call Julian "The Father of Rocky Point." He came to Tampa in the 1940s from the Miami area and soon set his sights on the bay. He purchased the properties that house, or housed, current and former staples: Crawdaddy's, Castaways, Whiskey Joe's and the Rusty Pelican. The Lifseys and their cousins, the Costises, are now partners at Current. The properties are mostly managed through a family trust.

Lifsey said given his family's relationship to Rocky Point, they wanted to find business partners who shared the same vision that the hotel to be something new, not standard.

Pinnacle Hotel Management will operate the hotel, which joins the Fenway and the Epicurean as a Marriott Autograph Collection member. To become an Autograph hotel, Marriott tells its partners to be "exactly like nothing else."

The Epicurean in SoHo partners with Bern's Steakhouse for a "foodie's escape." In Dunedin, the Fenway uses its history to take guests back to the jazz age.

They aren't the only hoteliers tapping the boutique market. Le Méridien, which isn't an Autograph hotel, makes the old new with its creative use of the former Tampa federal courthouse.

"All these brands are saying, 'We present something different than cookie-cutter," Morrison said. "All the data suggests that's the winning formula."

Current hotel manager Andrew Nielsen said he's already fielded a request to rent out the hotel for the Tampa Super Bowl that's not until 2021. Right now, the hotel staff is more focused on outfitting the rooms and unpacking furniture as the last bits of construction wind down.

"The product is here," Nielsen said, gesturing to the view from a ninth-floor window. "We have to back it up with the service."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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