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Bern's hotel project on hold
By Sharon Ginn and Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff Writers
Published February 26, 2008
The Epicurean Hotel will be a luxury, condominium hotel which will include 24-hour room service, bar service at the rooftop swimming pool, workout facilities, full-service day spa, and business meeting space.
TAMPA - Last year, Bern's Steak House owner David Laxer stood in an air conditioned tent before his Winefest VIPs to unveil a sexy plan: a luxury condo-hotel focused on food, just across the street from the legendary restaurant.
The Epicurean Hotel would house a new restaurant, upscale wine and cooking demonstrations, a culinary school, rooftop pool, bar and a spa, he said.
It would be the first of its kind, Laxer touted. All on what had long been the restaurant's unassuming main parking lot.
But Laxer's timing couldn't have been worse.
Bern's has been unable to secure financing for the project, and it is on hold indefinitely, said Heather Sherer-Berkoff, the restaurant's public relations director.
The project is the latest victim of a sagging real estate market and credit crunch. Although initial interest was high, only a few buyers signed contracts, said Rick Scherer, the real estate agent handling sales of the proposed hotel's 75 rooms and suites, offered for $200,000 and up.
"The whole idea of the condo-hotel was to help with financing," Sherer-Berkoff said.
Under the condo hotel concept, owners buy units, get access to them for 45 days a year and then get a percentage of room rental profits. Some in the industry say the concept is either too new to Tampa or just a bad fit for the SoHo area. Others say it could work with better timing.
"During times when there's somewhat of an insecurity in the market, buyers flee for tried and true products and locations," said Joel A. Cantor, who is developing the Signature condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg. For instance, condo buyers may not be as likely to invest in a unique concept like the Epicurean, or up-and-coming areas like the Channel District or downtown, as they would on Bayshore Boulevard or St. Pete Beach.
The plan was to have the Epicurean completed by February 2009, in time for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa.