Leaders push for return of hotels
By MIKE DONILA
Published May 2, 2007
Could Clearwater Beach become a hotel haven again?
Many of the old mom-and-pop motels that once dotted the shoreline have been bought up and torn down to make way for glitzy condos.
But with the slow housing market and many condominium projects at a standstill, Pinellas County leaders are talking about creating incentives that encourage developers to build hotels instead.
Such discussion has fueled speculation that part of the reason developer Taylor Woodrow pulled the plug Monday on its Clearwater Beach condo-hotel development, Indigo Beach Residences & Suites, is that it might be more lucrative to build a hotel on the old former Adam's Mark Hotel site.
The Pinellas Planning Council recently recommended a proposal that overhauls county land use rules. If approved by local leaders, it would give developers the chance to add more rooms to hotel projects. County commissioners will discuss the proposal during a work session next week and decide whether to hold a public hearing.
The idea will encounter at least one opponent: Commissioner Karen Seel, who is opposed to higher densities on the county's barrier islands and questions whether state regulators would approve the plan.
"I don't think that our citizens and our tourists really want us to look like Miami Beach, " she said Tuesday.
If the commissioners eventually sign off on increasing density for hotels, then Pinellas cities would also have the chance to adopt the new regulations.
"There's been significant interest in the development community as to the outcome" of the discussions, said Clearwater land use attorney Ed Armstrong. "Currently the economics greatly favor residential condominium development and this would level the playing field."
The change would be especially crucial for Clearwater Beach, which has seen big condo developments gobble up thousands of hotel rooms in the past half-decade.
"I think it's something we should strongly consider, " Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "I think right now the condominium market is stagnant, to say the least."
In the past, it's been more economical to build condominiums rather than hotels because, in terms of market value, six hotel rooms equals about one condo, said Gina Clayton, Clearwater's assistant planning department director. But that could change.
If the city lets developers build more hotel rooms on less property, then some builders might be inclined to forgo the condos for the hotels.
"The short version is that right now there's no incentive to build hotels, " said Clearwater Vice Mayor John Doran. "This makes it more equal."
Ken Hamilton, president of the 29-room Palm Pavilion Inn on Clearwater Beach, said if the proposal passed he would consider rebuilding the family-owned hotel, increasing it to about 120 rooms and connecting it to the nearby grill and restaurant.
Right now, though, he said he could increase the hotel to only about 66 rooms, and economically, it wouldn't make sense.
Developers on Clearwater Beach now can build 30 residential units per acre or 50 hotel rooms per acre.
The proposal that will go before county commissioners would let developers, depending on the parcel size, build 150 percent to 250 percent as many hotel rooms per acre as they can now.
Under these new rules, the cap would be 100 units per acre. The maximum would rise to 125 units if the parcel is larger than 3 acres.
The proposal also lets developers build 75 units on parcels less than an acre, though it doesn't take into consideration setback allowances and other restrictions, which means the units allowed on a specific site could be less.
Rules for condominiums would not change.
Hibbard said the additional hotels will also help the county, as well as Clearwater's bread and butter: tourism.
"Those overnight accommodations are what help support the economy, " he said. "They'll also help the existing condominium projects coming out of the ground because it will reduce the supply of condos or at least slow it down and that will help others."
Times staff writer Will Van Sant contributed to this report.
Beach hotel boom?
The Pinellas Planning Council has recommended increasing allowable density for hotel rooms, including on Clearwater Beach. Should county commissioners, the state and Clearwater officials all agree, the new limits on density for the beach would be:
Site size Hotel units allowed
Less than 1 acre 75 per acre*
1 to 3 acres 100 per acre
More than 3 acres 125 per acre
*Setback allowances and other restrictions could reduce allowable density on small sites
Source: Clearwater Vice Mayor John Doran