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Historic hotel's owner plans upgrades

The 90-year-old Crystal Bay, now the Park View, is open during renovation.

Published February 25, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - After years of waiting, residents along the west end of Central Avenue got their wish when a developer bought the Crystal Bay Hotel.

Norman Kerr, who has rehabbed properties in South Beach, Minneapolis, Austin and Dallas, bought the 90-year-old hotel in January and has already begun a multimillion-dollar repair that will include an upscale restaurant and event facilities to restore what was once the anchor of a western downtown.

"It was quite the place on the west side of town," said City Council member Herb Polson, who, in the 1960s, worked in what was then the Sunset Hotel.

As soon as Polson took office late last year, he heard about the Crystal Bay.

"It's not what it used to be," he said.

While the Historic Park Street neighborhood that surrounds the hotel at 7401 Central has been on the rise, the hotel took a turn for the worse when Rocco Fullerton bought it for $2-million in 2004, neighbors say. Fullerton said he policed his clients and fixed up the hotel, but the neighbors say he catered to drug users and prostitutes who brought crime to their community .

On a corner overlooking Sunset Park just before the city gives way to the beaches, the hotel seemed to have investment potential, but neighbors always heard from developers that the building was too old and would require too much work. Kerr said those investors just couldn't recognize the value of what was in front of them.

"They always think things are hot somewhere else," said Kerr, who moved here from Sarasota to work on this and other projects. "This is a hot place. There are some great things happening here."

Kerr paid $3.5-million for the 66-room hotel, which he now calls the Park View. He said he knew it was a good buy because a week later he got an offer for $1-million more.

He said he has heard others wanted to tear it down and build condos, but he thinks there's too much history there to throw away. He's collecting tokens and stories from the community about a guest list that included Glen Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth and even Robert Kennedy. That history, he said, was hidden under years of neglect.

"It was a little more than I expected," Kerr said. "The way it was, I couldn't pay you to stay there."

Kerr has begun fixing the hotel but is still operating it while he does so. His new staff has had to turn away some of the former clientele, he said. Neighbors who have visited are amazed at the changes, Kerr said, but really he's only cleaned it, not really started the six-month major renovation he plans.

A native of Minnesota, Kerr is cautious to underpromise so people don't get carried away. He doesn't plan a "hip" hotel like in South Beach, just a new pool and a nice restaurant that will be an impetus to redeveloping the commercial corridor east to the Pinellas Trail.

But optimism is running high. Kerr already has four weddings booked for the Park View's spacious front lawn, even though they'll have to have outside catering.

Kerr has already refinished a couple of rooms as models while he charges $75 a night for those that have only been thoroughly cleaned. When he's done, it will be a $125 a night hotel with 63 rooms, he said, some of which will be suites.

Kerr is working on behalf of a group of private investors from New York and Minnesota who all know St. Petersburg and plan to move here. He is also working on other projects, including a downtown office building and at least one more hotel project.

On the web

Norman Kerr Real Estate Investment

[Last modified February 24, 2007, 20:44:32]

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