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Hotel Haya is about to find out what it’s like to open during a pandemic

Ybor City’s long-awaited Havana-inspired boutique hotel will open during an intimate ribbon-cutting Thursday.

TAMPA — As the pandemic waged on, so did a $52 million project to create Hotel Haya.

The Ybor City boutique hotel, opening Thursday at 1412 E 7th Ave., spans century-old buildings with 178 rooms, a massive lobby and a bar and cafe. The hotel’s owners have chosen an intimate ribbon-cutting ceremony rather than a full party to celebrate. Like other hotels, the Haya’s restaurant and bar will have capacity restrictions. There are sanitation protocols and Plexiglas barriers at the check-in.

That’s the hotel industry in 2020. But the Haya part owners — Aparium Hotel Group — have a business model that centers on being hyper-local. That strategy, which pre-dates COVID-19, could pay off as the hotel will have to rely on locals to weather the pandemic. National travel has all but dropped off completely.

A corner junior suite with a balcony can be seen at the new Hotel Haya, The grand opening is scheduled for Thursday. The hotel is part of the Aparium Hotel Group and offers 178 guest rooms. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“Shovel in the ground, we didn’t know we would open to market occupancy in the 30 percent range,” said Aparium co-founder Mario Tricoci. “That’s not really sustainable for a hotel, but we believe the path is looking forward.”

Tricoci says his group aims to create hotels that are authentic to their communities. There are eight local beers on tap at the Haya, and the bar’s massive brass countertops came from a local metal worker. The intricate glass sculpture hanging in the dining area was made by the Morean Art Center, as were bulb globes in each room that look like Ybor’s street lights. Haya is for Ignacio Haya, an Ybor philanthropist and pioneer in the cigar industry.

Related: Behind the deal: $52 million boutique hotel coming to Ybor City started with cafe con leche at La Tropicana Cafe

“Big brands may talk to it, like having local beer on tap or put a local farm they work with on their menu," said Tricoci, “and that’s nice, and that’s important, but we go layers and layers deep.”

The Haya strikes the balance of luxury without intimidation. Its expansive lobby isn’t meant just for guests, but for locals to gather. The cafe — which serves St. Pete’s Made Coffee — is Café Quiquiriqui, Spanish for cock-a-doodle-do, as a nod to Ybor’s feral roosters.

Tables and chairs are set up at the new Flor Fina Restaurant inside the Hotel Haya, 1412 E Seventh Avenue, in Ybor City. The grand opening is scheduled for Thursday. The hotel is part of the Aparium Hotel Group and offers 178 guest rooms. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Local architect firm Alfonso Architects Incorporated took great care to keep the exterior intact of what was once Las Novedades, a restaurant built in 1890, as well as brick walls from the Warren Building — where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders were said to have stayed. Breathtaking 100-year-old tile reprints of paintings from 19th century Spanish artist Francisco Goya were discovered during the demolition, hidden behind plaster walls. The tile works are now prominently featured in a pre-event space that leads into the ballroom.

Several of the hotel’s rooms have balconies, made to look like those from the Las Novedades, which are sure to be a favorite of future Gasparilla revelers.

Rooms start at $199 a night. Tricoci said when he looks at how the Hillsborough market compares to similar urban areas, he feels optimistic. Occupancy rates might be low, but they’re even lower in much of the rest of the country.

The Hotel Haya, 1412 E Seventh Avenue, in Ybor City is scheduled to have a grand opening Thursday. It is part of the Aparium Hotel Group and offers 178 guest rooms. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Going into opening week, General Manager Pablo Molinari said the restaurant, Flor Fina, has reservations booked including a small birthday party. The ballroom will host its first wedding Oct. 10.

“We are betting on the recovery of Ybor,” Molinari said, referring to the beating the business community has taken because of COVID-19. “We’re betting on the recovery of Florida, of the rest of the country.”