A hotel reborn, a city revived
By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- City economic development director Ron Barton politely declined the salmon bruschetta Friday as he stood in the luxurious community room at the new Madison apartments in downtown St. Petersburg.
Orlando-based developer ZOM held a luncheon in the first finished building to celebrate and invited Barton and other city officials.
To Barton, the building of the Madison is a direct result of the rebirth of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort a decade ago.
"To me, it's amazing what results have come in 10 years in the downtown," he said. "The renovation of the Vinoy was a watershed in the redevelopment of downtown."
From 1975 to 1990, the big Mediterranean Revival hotel stood vacant and vandalized, a symbol of the deterioration of downtown St. Petersburg. Once investors spent $92-million to restore it, projects such as condominium towers, new restaurants, the BayWalk entertainment center -- and now the Madison apartments -- followed.
"Until the Vinoy was done, it was an obstacle to redevelopment," said Marty Normille, the former executive vice president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. "Whenever we'd pitch St. Pete to a developer, inevitably, they would say, 'What about that eyesore over there?' "
So the city had to talk about its renovated pier and the hope that Major League Baseball would send a team to occupy the new domed stadium the city was building, city development administrator Rick Mussett remembers.
Once the Vinoy was redone, it lent credibility to Mussett's pitch. In fact, the Vinoy was the ideal spot for prospective out-of-town developers to stay as they studied building projects in St. Petersburg.
The Vinoy helped to restore a relaxed and luxurious tone downtown, the atmosphere it had as a winter home for the well-off in its 1920s heyday. St. Petersburg had exchanged that image for one as a magnet for elderly retirees on a tight budget.
Mike Cheezem, the CEO of developer JMC Communities, said the Vinoy had opened the way for the Florencia, the luxury condominium high-rise his company built downtown in three years ago.
"It was a real big factor in our decision to build that community, the Vinoy's stature, its success, the quality of what they did, the clientele they were attracting," he said.
It helped his company sell the expensive condominiums.
"To be able to go there for dinner, to be able to put guests up there, all that is just a big plus in the minds of our owners," Cheezem said.
Mayor Rick Baker was formerly the Chamber of Commerce chairman.
"I have always felt that bringing back downtown was a three-legged stool: Getting the Vinoy renovated, bringing baseball downtown, and getting an entertainment center into downtown," he said. "The Vinoy really kicked off the renovation of downtown St. Petersburg."
The benefits have been more than psychological, said general manager Russell Bond.
"We have created an employment base for over 500 people and revenues of over $30-million a year that are pumped into the St. Petersburg economy," he said. "Shop owners on Beach Drive say, 'Your guests are always coming over to our store,' and our guests are at BayWalk all the time."
At the Madison, the apartment floor plans have names: the Gilchrist, the Frankland, the Tomlinson.
The most popular is a 1,518-square-foot, two-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath townhouse that leases for $1,695 per month.
It's called "the Vinoy."
If you go
The Vinoy will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its grand reopening with a free open house today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A parking shuttle will run from North Shore Park.
Staff will conduct history tours every hour on the hour until 2 p.m.
A reel of 1929 film of downtown St. Petersburg will be shown at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Jazz band Allon Sams and Friends will play from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
20 local artists will show works, including images of the Vinoy.
The American Stage theater company will perform for children at 3 p.m.
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