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Iconic gay resort may become a Home Depot

The Suncoast Resort’s owners say they’ll reopen elsewhere.

By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published April 21, 2007


photo
Christopher Marc, 42, and Abraham Levy, 36, both of St. Petersburg talk at the Tiki Bar at the Suncoast Resort on Friday.
[Times photo: Edmund Fountain]
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ST. PETERSBURG -- The Suncoast Resort - for nine years a cultural icon of the Tampa Bay area's gay community -- may soon become a Home Depot.

Co-owner Tom Kiple said Friday he has a tentative sales agreement with the big-box store. But he said the sale depends upon the city's approval of two variance requests, which come before the Environmental Development Commission next month.

"This is not a done deal," Kiple said in his office on the hotel's third floor. "They have to know whether or not they can go on this property, and the only way to know is to go to the city and ask."

Even if the sale goes through, Kiple said the resort will not close. He said he has two possible new locations in mind, but he wouldn't say where.

Kiple would not reveal how much Home Depot offered for the property, which is appraised at $4.3 million, according to county records.

Kiple and his business partner, Lester Wolff, purchased the destitute 120-room Hosanna Hotel for $3-million in 1998 with plans to transform it into the world's largest gay and lesbian convention center.

Almost immediately, local activists attacked the new resort, calling it a gay "invasion."

The controversy helped make the resort a success, Kiple said. Within weeks, he said, he was booked solid for months.

Even back then, rumors circulated that the resort was soon to close.

"There was constantly somebody saying, 'Oh, it's sold, it's sold,'" he said.

Spurred by rumors, retail chains and developers showed up in his office to make offers on the 8.97-acre parcel, Kiple said.

None of the offers were good enough, he said. Instead, the sprawling pink stucco-and-concrete complex became a thriving nightspot, with shops, theme bars and weekend dance parties.

At least twice, the resort was struck by tragedy. In August of 2000, a 39-year-old partygoer drowned in the resort's swimming pool. And in July of 2006, a drunken driver heading home from the resort struck and killed a 12-year-old boy.

The resort has also begun to show its age. Grass has sprouted in the sand of the volleyball court. Many of the storefronts on the ground level are empty.

Kiple said he and Wolff kept those storefronts vacant in anticipation of a planned renovation. He said they have already invested in a new roof and updated wiring and plumbing.

"People say, 'Why don't you fix it up?' Well, believe it or not we have, but mostly in things you can't see," he said. "We were planning on millions of dollars of renovation, but it's better to relocate."

First, the city will have to sign off on two variances: one to let the new Home Depot keep large mechanical equipment on the premises, and another to have 233 fewer parking spaces than required by the City Code.

The Environmental Development Commission will consider the matter at its May 2 meeting at 2 p.m. at Council Chambers in City Hall.

If the deal goes through as planned, Kiple said it may be three months to a year before the resort relocates.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at (813) 310 1246 or srosenbaum@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 20, 2007, 23:32:06]


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