tampabay.com

Beach gains first hotel in years

Part of the $100-million Entrada development, the Clearwater Beach Gulfview Resort opens with 103 new hotel rooms.

By MIKE DONILA
Published September 3, 2006


CLEARWATER - The first piece of a massive new project quietly debuted Friday as the Clearwater Beach Gulfview Resort opened a renovated tower that creates more than 100 new and updated rooms on the waterfront.

The opening ends the first of four phases in the $100-million Entrada development. The rest of the project calls for renovating the hotel's second tower, building a convention center and creating a 13-story hotel that may include condos.

Decade Properties purchased the hotel at 521 S Gulfview Blvd. in August 2003 for $12.9-million. It operated as a Ramada until October 2004, when it became the independent Clearwater Beach Gulfview Resort.

The Entrada project is one of many big developments underway at Clearwater Beach, but the tower is the first major addition of new or renovated hotel rooms in quite some time, said Sheila Cole, executive director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.

"I've been here 16 years on this beach and I can't remember one ... but we need as many rooms as possible," she said. "It's actually an old hotel that's becoming a new one and we're excited. It gives a wonderful beach more places to put all our visitors. The hotel rooms are gorgeous, the food is fabulous. They're not missing a thing."

The hotel's northern tower opened Friday after receiving its certificate of occupancy Thursday evening from the city. Several visitors had already checked in, and hotel officials say they could have a larger celebration for the hotel in the near future.

Before the renovation, developers built Jimmy's Fish House and Iguana Bar, a restaurant that can serve 300 inside and on a deck that also features entertainment.

The builders then turned their attention to the northern tower, which had been pummeled by Hurricane Frances two years ago.

They gutted the building, and renovated from the roof to the ground floor, updating the rooms, the full-service salon, a game room and meeting spaces.

The nine-floor tower opens with 103 nonsmoking rooms, including 46 two-room suites, seven cabana rooms and a 1,000-square-foot penthouse.

Prices start at $159 a night for a standard 325-square-foot room with a king-size bed to $500 a night for the penthouse, that also includes a full kitchen.

The rooms all feature 32-inch flat-screen televisions mounted on the walls, kitchenettes, granite countertops, dining tables and private balconies.

"This is going to be the nicest hotel on Clearwater Beach," hotel general manager Rick Alles said.

The initial plan was to renovate the hotel's two towers, opening the 189 rooms as condo-hotels. In addition, developers had planned to build a convention center and the Entrada: a 13-story resort with 52 hotel rooms, 38 condos, a penthouse with seven bedrooms covering 14,000 square feet, and a parking garage.

But Alles said the soft condominium market that's swept the Tampa Bay region prompted Decade Properties to rethink its strategy and open the Gulfview Resort as hotel rooms only. He said the company hasn't decided on what type of housing will now go in the Entrada.

Now that the first tower is renovated, Alles said the plan is to shut down the other one in upcoming weeks and renovate it. That seven-floor tower, which now has 140 rooms, is expected to open in February 2007 with 86 rooms.

Along with a full-service salon with a massage room, the renovated hotel has a series of banquet halls and meetings rooms and what Alles says is the largest swimming pool on the beach at almost 65,000 gallons.

In addition to renovating the first tower, builders have revamped the lobby that connects the two buildings, adding new wallpaper and placing wood around the old support poles. The operation also has updated and upgraded the furniture.

The hotel also plans to replenish the sand along the waterfront, creating its own beach.