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Dunedin's historic Fenway to become public, boutique hotel

A rendering shows a design proposal — a rooftop bar overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway — for the boutique hotel.
Published May 18, 2016

DUNEDIN

The revamping of the historic Fenway Hotel has long been a dream for residents and city leaders. By next spring, when the 1920s building is expected to once again open its doors to the public, developers say that dream will become reality.

The building's owner, Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA, has been renovating for months to turn the space into its new national headquarters. But after hearing feedback from the public, the nonprofit has partnered with a Tampa-based hotel developer to make the space double as a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel, complete with more than 100 public rooms, a bar, a pool and a restaurant.

Sean Dennison, executive director of the tai chi society, said it was clear the public wanted to be a part of whatever happened to the Fenway. Seeing itself as a community partner, the nonprofit wanted to make that happen.

"We knew that it was a major wish of the leaders of the community for this building to be open and available to the public," he said. "This agreement was an opportunity for us to accomplish our vision for the property, but still accommodate the wishes that have been expressed to us."

Dennison said that the financial aspects of the project and agreement are not finalized, but that the partnership is "helping to support more than $11 million of our renovations."

Under a 25-year lease agreement, Mainsail Lodging and Development will turn the Mediterranean-style waterfront building at 453 Edgewater Drive into a hotel for the Marriott International Autograph Collection, a chain of 115 luxury hotels the company calls "exactly like nothing else." Rooms will be open to the public year-round, excluding five weeks of the year when the society needs the rooms for its programs.

Mainsail founder Joe Collier, who developed the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa as the bay area's first of the collection, says each of the hotels under the brand is "different and authentic" and feeds off its location. Dunedin's Fenway, he says, will be no different.

"We are going to tap into all things offered in Dunedin — Blue Jays, Caladesi and Honeymoon islands, the great downtown food scene, the Pinellas Trail, the waterfront," he said. "We have a lot to work with here."

Although designs are not expected to be finalized for a few more months, some proposals include a rooftop bar and the rebuilding of the pier in the Intracoastal Waterway across the street. Collier, who calls himself more of a curator than a developer, says the interior design will be a special "tip of the hat" to Dunedin's history.

Because the collection is under the Marriott company brand, the Fenway will be featured in brochure books and promotional videos in other Autograph hotels across the globe, giving Dunedin international exposure.

Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston said that although the project will stand as a tribute to the city's past, it is also representative of its present and future.

"The vetting process when Marriott looks at destinations for their Autograph Collection hotels is very stringent if you look at some of the other communities they have selected," he said. "For a company of their caliber to make an investment in our city shows we are obviously doing something right."

He called the project a "win-win-win."

"We get the desired use of the property, pick up a full-service hotel and some conference capabilities, and still keep a valuable community partner in the tai chi society," he said.

Commissioner Heather Gracy said she also appreciates the continued partnership the city has with the nonprofit.

"I think this is a wonderful acknowledgement by the tai chi society of our wishes," she said, "and by Mainsail to recognize Dunedin's charm and walkable downtown and how those things can parallel the amenities they want to offer."

Commissioner Deborah Kynes, who has lived in the neighborhood surrounding the Fenway for 37 years, called the project "a dream come true" and expects it to be "as stunning as the Epicurean."

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said that on a practical level, the hotel will give the city more room to host guests.

But Collier says the Fenway won't be just another run-of-the-mill hotel.

"You don't need a Holiday Inn there," he said. "What you need is what we are going to do there — something special."

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.

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