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Vinoy's new owner to decide on spa, pool

Where to put a spa and whether to add a pool are on the agenda.

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - When FelCor Lodging Trust bought the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club late last year, it was a purchase that would not require the kind of renovations the rest of FelCor's portfolio has undergone. But some work remains that may change the look of the Vinoy.

While the Vinoy has a unique combination of marina and golf facilities, it lacks a full-service spa. City voters approved a plan for a spa, but now that FelCor is the owner, there will be new discussions on where to build it. There may also be a new pool to separate families from other tourists.

"We'll be meeting this month or next to talk about the spa and the pool," said Russ Bond, general manager of the Vinoy. "We'll see if there's alignment or if we have to go back to the drawing board."

The spa was originally proposed as a 17,000-square-foot building probably on the northern end of the property. Bond said that is still possible, but the spa may also be built on the west side of the building where there is now a garden space.

"We need the spa to stay competitive," Bond said, "but the goal is to do it with minimum disruption."

Bond said a one- or two-story, 11,000-square-foot spa could go on top of Vinoy's Palm Court garage along Seventh Avenue NE or displace the adjacent tennis courts.

He said the garden site along Beach Drive is also a possibility, but much will hinge on the outcomes of meetings with FelCor.

FelCor, which owns 85 hotels, might add another pool on the upper deck and then designate one as a family venue and one for adult travelers.

"The more resort amenities you bring in, the more guests you can attract," said Stephen Schafer, FelCor's vice president for strategic planning and investor relations.

Schafer said part of the attraction of the Vinoy was that it wouldn't require work. FelCor has budgeted about $430-million to renovate its other properties as it aims at being upscale and then some.

When the company bought the Vinoy, it also bought another Renaissance property, the Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Indian Wells, Calif. Schafer said there may be some adjustments at Esmeralda, too, but the properties already fit where the real estate investment trust wants to go.

"The hotels are in good shape," Schafer said. "What the customers see won't change, though we'll look for opportunities to improve the facilities."

Texas-based FelCor, with a $3.1-billion portfolio, bought the two properties in December for a combined $225-million. Schafer said the properties did not have separate price tags and are very different in size and scope, but not individual values.

The Vinoy has 361 rooms; the Renaissance Esmeralda, 560. The Vinoy has a 74-slip marina, but the Esmeralda has 70 acres of land. Both have golf facilities.

Bond said the Vinoy's previous owner, Walton Street Capital, invested $10-million in the property since buying it in 2005. Half that figure went into rebuilding the marina that was damaged by Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

FelCor started out as a private company but went public in 1994. In recent years, it has begun to sell off lesser properties and now bills itself as the nation's largest owner of "upper upscale, all-suite" hotels.

Paul Swider can be reached at pswider@sptimes.com or 892-2271.

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