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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 8 months ago

Close for Comfort

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The hotel market is getting congested in and around Sarasota. One of the newest entries, without a national branded flag, has a unique target.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

As Thanksgiving meals were served next door, the ground was broken at the Carlisle Inn of Sarasota.

That was November 2016. The new 100-room, four-story hotel, about a $15 million project, will open March 1. It will cater toward travelers of all kinds, including Amish and Mennonite visitors who come to Sarasota's unique Pinecraft community. Pinecraft, about four miles from downtown, is a haven for Amish and Mennonite people, and the 82,000-square-foot hotel is within biking distance of the center of the community.

Walnut Creek, Ohio-based Dutchman Hospitality Group owns the hotel. The group owns a Carlisle Inn in Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek, Ohio, plus Carlisle Country Inn in Berlin, Ohio, and Miller Manor in Walnut Creek. It also owns six restaurants, all in Ohio, except for the Der Dutchman restaurant it owns that shares the same property as Carlisle Inn of Sarasota.

Jeff Miller is general manager of the inn, project manager for the construction of the inn and an owner of the company. “Pinecraft is short on housing in the winter,” he says. That's when the community sees an influx of Amish and Mennonite visitors from the north. It's one of the main reasons the hotel was built, he says, plus the lack of a similar hotel in the area.

“We're trying to portray Amish and Mennonite values,” Miller says, such as rural charm, simple comforts and quality food. The experience of staying at the inn is meant to be simpler, slower and peaceful. But that doesn't mean the hotel lacks televisions or a swimming pool. “We have all the modern conveniences,” he says.

The hotel's design elements speak to its values, too, with a quilt motif prominent on the building's exterior and places for quilts to be displayed in the common areas.

The company will hire 40 people for the inn, many of whom, as with the restaurant's employees, will be Amish or Mennonite. For them, it's a convenient place to work within the community.

The hotel marketing plan is to target families, business travelers, sport tourists and groups. Carlisle Inn has 4,800 square feet of meeting space that can be broken into smaller rooms and arranged for retreats, conferences, receptions, presentations and meetings.

At the conference center, Miller says he also wants to host theater performances. The concept is not new to Dutchman Hospitality Group. In Sugarcreek, it operates the Ohio Star Theater, where there are performances of Gospel quartets, contemporary Christian bands and Amish-themed musicals. Within five years, Miller says, he'd like to have performances starting in Sarasota.

The hotel is taking reservations, and it's already seeing reservations for longer stays, from a week to two weeks. Miller says 27 rooms have a kitchenette and 11 have kitchens and places for guest to do laundry. Standard rooms have changing areas separate from the bedroom. Wide hallways offer seating for guests.

Rates for standard rooms are $150 to $199, depending on the time of the year, including a hot breakfast.

Miller admits it can be challenging for hotels that aren't part of a large national chain with a reward system to book rooms. “We're hoping the unique experience will help,” he says.

Another challenge comes in inventory — hundreds of new hotel rooms have come online recently in Sarasota, and hundreds more are in the works. But Miller says he's seen camaraderie among hoteliers in the area, and he thinks they'll be able to bring in larger groups. He sees success coming to all of them.

It's been a long road for the Carlisle Inn of Sarasota to open. The company bought the restaurant in 1986 and then started to buy parcels of land for the hotel. In August 2016, it bought the last parcel. (It spent about $900,000 on land.) Now the property covers 12 acres, including two strip malls, the restaurant and the inn. Miller says, “We've been wanting to do this for a while.”

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