ST. PETE BEACH
Fresh off recognition as one of the best historic hotels in the country, the Loews Don CeSar is spending millions to bring the property into the 21st century.
Nearly $10 million this year will go into building a contemporary bar and restaurant at the historic 277-room "Pink Palace" on St. Pete Beach and renovating rooms at a neighboring property, the Beach House Suites by Loews Don CeSar.
But renovating a hotel with as much history as the Don CeSar is easier said than done. In an age where travelers demand the latest amenities — from free Wi-Fi to a menu of expertly handcrafted cocktails — it's not always so easy to find the balance between the property's old charm and more modern offerings, said general manager Stephen Cummings.
"Traveling in 2015, guests assume and expect certain standards from resorts," Cummings said. "Our intent with this latest renovation is to be able to provide more of what they want, from updated, spacious suites for families to a new menu of craft wine and craft beer offerings."
The Don, which was built in 1928, has contended with rumblings by fans of its history during past renovations.
When the fountain on the hotel's fifth floor outside the King Charles ballroom was removed as part of a $7 million renovation in 2011, nearby residents and general fans of the Don CeSar were upset — even though the fountain wasn't really historically significant and seemed to impede pedestrian traffic in that area of the hotel.
So what will guests think of a modern bar, like something you'd find on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg?
The Rowe Bar, named after the Don CeSar's founder, Thomas Rowe, will replace a bar called Sunsets near the pool. The nearly $2 million renovation, which begins this month, will add an elevated patio deck with fire pits and gulf views. The bar will face the gulf and have sliding doors that open up the space to the beach just steps away.
A new mixologist-inspired cocktail and seafood menu will be offered when the Rowe Bar opens to the public in January.
Loews Hotels is also looking to expand its reach to new kinds of travelers.
The Beach House Suites is a 70-room hotel less than a mile north on St. Pete Beach. The hotel, formerly named the Wander Club Residence, was bought by the Don CeSar and renamed in 1997.
Loews Hotels is spending $7.8 million renovating the property, which is made up of one-bedroom suites that include one to two bathrooms, a limited kitchen and spacious balconies that overlook the gulf.
"This property is very popular with families and international guests who choose to stay a week or more," Cummings said, which is different from the traditional Don guest.
The hotel has also been used as an overflow option for conference guests who use the meeting space in the Loews Don CeSar. Beach House Suites guests shuttle to and from the Loews Don CeSar property and have access to all of the hotel's amenities. They can also walk to the Don from the beach.
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The renovations to the Loews properties on St. Pete Beach are the latest in a slew of updates in recent years. In 2012, the hotel spent $5 million to renovate guest rooms. It added an upscale spa in 2008. In the next two years, Loews plans to spend around $2 million to update the hallways in the hotel with new carpets and fresh paint, and update the banquet halls and other meeting rooms.
"This is the time to do renovations, when the cash is flowing," said Daniel Lesser, president and CEO of LW Hospitality Advisors in New York City. "Every hotel has to stay up to date with the latest trends and desires if they want to continue to be successful. But there's been this resurgence of blending the old with the new. It sounds like that's what they're trying to do."
Contact Justine Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sunbizgriffin.