TAMPA — Ian Schrager believed Tampa’s first five-star hotel needed plants. Lots of plants. A “jungle” of fronds and ferns of all shapes and sizes, spread in dozens of planters and pots in every direction of the lobby.
And so plants are what Schrager got. Because for some guests, the plants might be the most memorable touch of many at Water Street Tampa’s new Edition hotel, which held its long-awaited grand opening on Friday.
For others, it might be the custom marble pool table topped with canary-yellow felt. Or the reflective magenta orb bulging from the wall by the check-in. Or the rooftop poolside lounge ringed with bougainvillea and Japanese blueberry trees.
“I never know what detail is going to put something over the top,” Schrager said. “I never know what detail is going to resonate with someone, is going to make them react.”
The Edition is bound to elicit reactions. The opulent, ultra-chic hotel looks more like a place you’d see in New York or Paris or Miami than Tampa — and with rooms starting in the mid-to-high hundreds, it’s priced that way, too. Friday’s grand opening brought out celebrities like Lenny Kravitz, who marked the occasion with a private, VIPs-only concert at Amalie Arena.
The whole Edition experience is, in Schrager’s words, “something that’s never been done” here. It’s sort of the cherry on top of the first phase of Water Street Tampa, the $3.5 billion downtown development from Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. So there really was little point in not going all-out for the opening.
“We try and create a very unique product that has a sense of self, it’s not a copy-paste, it really is its own thing, and try to raise that hospitality bar as high as we possibly can,” said Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, who’s leading the food program at five of the Edition’s seven bars and restaurants.
Speaking via videoconference from New York, Schrager said people asked him: Why Tampa? The city is a “boom town” that reminded him of Stockholm, he said, a waterfront destination with more to offer visitors than even seasoned travelers realize.
“It’s not something that somebody might think on the surface would be a great city for us to be in, but it was,” said Schrager, who redeveloped Miami Beach’s Delano Hotel in the ‘90s. “Having a lot of familiarity with Florida, I think this is Tampa’s time.”
Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said a hotel like the Edition opens the door for higher-end business conventions and meetings — gatherings of doctors, CEOs, financiers and the like. He likened the Edition’s development to “a pregnancy that has lasted a while. But you want to get it right.”
“It attracts a certain clientele which in the past we’ve not ever been able to attract,” Corrada said. “I can tell you that when we want to host big, big events — think Super Bowls or huge conventions — the first question is, ‘What are your five-star hotels?’ To this point, we’ve not had one. So this is major for our industry.”
Exactly how Tampa residents will experience the Edition remains to be seen. Most will never stay there, and perhaps may never step inside. Fraser said he hoped locals would at least check out the Edition’s signature Greek-Mediterranean restaurant, Lilac, or the pizza at its more casual Market across the lobby.
“Not that I’m a psychiatrist, but I try to get a sense for what is successful here and what’s not,” he said. “Lilac, we want it to be one of the best restaurants in Tampa. The Market, we want it to be the best restaurant in the neighborhood.”
Schrager said “there’s nothing more boring” than “a room full of rich people.” If locals want to grab a drink in the lobby before a Lightning game, they should.
“I don’t consider luxury exclusionary anymore,” he said. “I consider luxury accessible to everybody.”
In Tampa, Corrada said, the Edition represents a vision of luxury that’s long overdue.
“They talk about game-changers, and certainly it’s historic,” he said. “Because we have been waiting for this for a long time.”