With the recent opening of the Treasure Island Beach Resort, an aggressively expanding South Florida hotel chain has become the largest owner and operator of hotel rooms in Pinellas County.
Ocean Properties operates six hotels in the Tampa Bay area with a combined capacity of more than 800 rooms, from the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach to the Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach. The Delray Beach-based hotel chain has been steadily increasing its footprint here and betting on more tourism growth in the region.
This comes at a time when some sleepy gulfside communities are considering new zoning ordinances to allow for more resorts, just like the new 77-room Treasure Island Beach Resort.
"Ocean Properties sees what everyone else sees right now, which is untapped opportunity," said David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, the tourism marketing arm of Pinellas County. "There is a growing demand for new, high-end properties, and it's reflected in our room rates. They've grown dramatically over the years."
It's no wonder the Treasure Island Beach Resort opened with much acclaim a month ago with its sweeping, unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico, a unique restaurant with a craft cocktail-inspired bar and one-bedroom and two-bedroom units that include kitchens. The new resort, which sits on a 1.5-acre lot, is the first new hotel development to open on Treasure Island in about a decade, said Reid Silverboard, Treasure Island's city manager.
"It's a great example of what tourists expect nowadays," Silverboard said of Treasure Island's newest resort, which is located at 10800 Gulf Blvd. "It's a beautiful place with good views and good food. It's a really nice addition to the city and has started the conversation about how we can improve our current rules to redevelop more motels in the area."
The waterfront lot where the Treasure Island Beach Resort is located was vacant for a decade before Ocean Properties purchased it and began construction. It used to be the site of three independently owned motels, including the well-known Buccaneer Motel, which was demolished in 2005.
There's nothing else quite like it on Treasure Island, Downing said. The only other chain hotel on the island is the Residence Inn by Marriott, also operated by Ocean Properties, which is just a half mile down Gulf Boulevard.
"Between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, there's not a big resort community," he said. "Beach communities like Treasure Island are still touristy and we're starting to see these areas offer a wider range of accommodations."
Plenty of beach communities, from Indian Rocks to Madeira Beach, don't want the traffic and high-rise buildings that come with adding hundreds of hotel rooms, like what's happened on Clearwater Beach and what's starting to build around St. Pete Beach.
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But there is a need to update old properties, tourism and some government officials say, like the slew of motels built in the 1940s and 1950s that can't renovate to attract new tourists without some eased restrictions from city governments.
Back in Treasure Island, the City Commission passed the first reading of a new ordinance that will increase the building height allowed on the beachside stretch of Gulf Boulevard from five floors to seven and increase the density of rooms from 50 per-acre to 75. The ordinance will require a referendum where residents can vote on the matter, Silverboard said.
"We're hoping that this new resort and the passing of a new ordinance will help revitalize the area," said Clyde Smith, the general manager of the 166-room Bilmar Beach Resort on Treasure Island. "I think that will entice more people to look at Treasure Island for investment purposes, which will bring additional travelers here. But there's a limit. We don't want the traffic we see to the north and south of us."
There are no other proposed hotel projects for Treasure Island currently.
It seems that Ocean Properties is ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in luxury properties in underdeveloped communities. In 2010, the company bought a 50 percent stake in the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach, a four-diamond AAA rated resort, three years after it opened as the first new beach resort in Tampa Bay in 25 years. In 2007, Ocean Properties bought the former Adam's Mark hotel site in Clearwater Beach. It opened as the 230-room Opal Sands Resort in February.
"Ocean Properties has always been well-capitalized even when the market was down," said David Gray, a managing director with LW Hospitality Advisors. "It makes sense that they've had an interest in the Gulf Coast of Florida. They were there just as Clearwater was starting to rebound, and that's become a very strong market."
The company manages the Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach and owns the Spring Hill Suites hotel in Tampa's West Shore district. Other properties include the Resort at Longboat Key Club, Lido Beach Resort and the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Naples. They have developed, own or manage 41 properties across the state.
Ocean Properties operates hundreds of hotels in Florida, the Northeast, the western United States and Canada.
"There are more available beach front sites for hotels on the West Coast of Florida, and they are cheaper on that coast," Gray said. "As for Treasure Island, they must have seen the performance of the Residence Inn they own there and saw an opportunity to build something new."
The Treasure Island Beach Resort caters to families with its multiroom units and kitchens. General manager Nasser Wehbe said the hotel has hosted business travelers, international travelers and families since it opened in March. Through the summer, Wehbe anticipates attracting Florida visitors who are looking for a summer beach getaway. The hotel offers standard amenities, like a gym and a pool with beach views. The staff is working with the city to add a tiki bar outside. Room rates currently run around $300 but drop into the $200s in the summer.
"We have residents stop by from walking on the beach to check us out," he said. "Most of the feedback has been positive. I think they're happy to see something new here."
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.