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With the recent okay from the city, an aging Gulfport eyesore could become a shining jewel in the waterfront district.
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
GULFPORT -- Believers in the downtown waterfront district are hoping the third time's the charm for Beach Boulevard's most notable landmark.
On Tuesday the Gulfport City Council approved a new site plan for an old three-story hotel known by a myriad of monikers -- the Cedars, the Patrons Inn, the Bayview Hotel. This is the third site plan approved in as many years for the largest building in Gulfport, now called the Plantation Inn & Spa.
City leaders expressed confidence in the renovation plans of the new owners, who by all accounts have the financial backing to pull off the extensive refurbishing, expected to cost at least $600,000.
"I'm just enthusiastic to see something happen other than just talk," Mayor Michael Yakes said.
Alexandra Kingzett, president of the Plantation Inn and Spa, 2937 Beach Blvd., learned quickly after buying the property that her plans had many doubters. A series of well-intentioned developers, including a group formed by local artists, had tried to restore the inn, but their high hopes couldn't get them over the financial hurdles.
"One of the biggest stumbling blocks for us is that there had been so many false starts with the building before that there was just a high level of suspicion and skepticism that anything could actually happen with this," Kingzett said. "I think there are people in the community who still think it's never going to get off the ground, so it's going to have to be a "show me' thing. We'll have to gain their confidence slowly."
Questions arose with the hotel's previous owners and how they spent about $100,000 in county-administered federal grant money, but Kingzett and her husband, Jim, already have gained the county's confidence. Impressed with the Kingzetts' financial standing, Pinellas officials offered them a $300,000 low-interest loan to help finance the renovations.
"We had projected this would cost in the $600,000 range, and I'm sure it will go north of there, as projects always do," Kingzett said. "Any additional funds need to come from us, and they will. It is always higher than you think it's going to be."
The Plantation owners also have applied to list the hotel on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here's what the Kingzetts have planned for the old inn: two restaurants on the ground floor, plus a spa or salon. An additional room, with a fireplace, could be used to serve drinks and desserts or as a breakfast area for hotel guests.
The top two floors will be divided into 13 hotel rooms or suites. The Kingzetts will operate the hotel themselves, but so far only one tenant -- albeit an exclusive one -- has signed on to be part of the ground floor.
The Six Tables Restaurant, the elegant Dunedin restaurant where the meals are six-course and reservations are required, will open a new location on the ground floor of the Plantation Inn & Spa. The Kingzetts are still looking for a second restaurateur and a spa or salon owner.
"When people see the building starting to take shape, it will generate a little more activity," Kingzett said.
The hotel was built between 1901 and 1905, according to an architects' study completed by a previous owner. The building was a resort hotel at the beginning of the century, but since has been used as a veterans home, a nursing home, a hospital, a retirement home, a Baptist boarding house and a congregate living home. In the 1970s, someone wanted to open a Christian school there.
One aspect of the Kingzetts' plans that city officials are particularly excited about is the future of the old Bayview Hotel's elevator shaft, an ugly, out-of-place tower built onto the hotel years after its construction. The 40-foot-plus elevator shaft, the highest point in the waterfront district, will be turned into a clock tower.
"Right now it's one of the ugliest parts of the building," Kingzett said. "The elevator is still usable, so the only way to mitigate its bad architectural line is to put a roof on it and dress it up a little bit and incorporate it into the building."
Kingzett envisions the elevator shaft-turned-clock tower, complete with a copper roof, as the "center of town."
The old hotel, located next door to the popular Backfin Blue Cafe, has long been considered the missing link to a successful revitalization of Beach Boulevard.
"I'm delighted; I'm thrilled to death," City Council member Jack Olsen said. "Anything but a derelict sitting down there."