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Tampa Bay Area
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 14, 2017 2 years ago

Commercial Real Estate Q&A

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STAN LIFSEY, President, Lifsey Real Estate & Holdings Inc., Tampa
by: Kevin McQuaid Commercial Real Estate Editor

Stan Lifsey's grandfather assembled the land that is Rocky Point, today home to more than 1.4 million square feet of upscale office space and a pair of high-end hotels. To carry on his family's legacy, Lifsey, 39, and his family firm are partnering with Pinnacle Hotel Management to develop a 10-story, Marriott Autograph Collection hotel named Current, which will contain 180 rooms, 5,000 square feet of meeting and event space and a rooftop terrace. The 2500 N. Rocky Point Drive hotel also will contain an upscale restaurant, retail space by Tampa's Oxford Exchange and Buddy Brew coffee. Pinnacle, a company started in 1997 by former Marriott executive Ron Franklin and Dick Vilardo, manages more than three dozen hotels nationwide, including more than a dozen in Florida. Current will be the Tampa Bay area's second Marriott Autograph property, following Mainsail Lodging & Development's Epicurean. The hotel broke ground on March 30 and is slated for completion in late 2018.

How did the plan for Current come together?
My grandfather had leased much of Rocky Point to restaurants like Crawdaddy's and the Rusty Pelican in the 1970s. For more than 30 years they were great operations, but by 2004 some had fallen into disarray. So Crawdaddy's was demolished, and we began trying to determine what the highest and best use for the site would be. Originally, we were considering a restaurant and meeting space there, but as we saw the market turn, we thought a boutique hotel would generate higher returns and be something the community could really be proud of. As a family company we had never developed a hotel. We knew only that we had an iconic property and that we wanted to make a statement.

How did you decide that Marriott's Autograph Collection was the right fit?
We identified with Marriott's Autograph Collection brand. It's the type of hotel I often seek out when I'm traveling. What we and Pinnacle really liked about it is the flexibility and latitude they allow in the architecture and the interior design. In many ways they give you a blank slate to fulfill your vision and make an individual statement, but you also have the horsepower of their reservation system and the structure of the top hotel operator on the planet with Marriott International.

Why Pinnacle?
We met with a number of potential partners, and when we met Pinnacle, they were in the midst of developing a property in Orlando that had a lot of the same structure that we had planned for Rocky Point. And they had a long relationship as a quality operator with Marriott. The more we learned about them, the more we realized their vision for the property was in line with what ours was. We want to develop something that we can keep long term; we're not building this to sell it. We also wanted to bring in the best of what the bay area has to offer, and that led to us Oxford Exchange and Buddy Brew. We also plan to put a very high-end restaurant in the hotel, but we've not yet selected an operator there. We've had a lot of expressions of interests from local chefs, but we're still deciding what direction to go in there.

What's the overall value of the project, hard costs and soft costs combined?
It's about $54 million.

Autograph properties all seem to revolve around a certain theme, or have some special amenities. How will Current differentiate itself?
The rooftop terrace we believe will be a destination for tourists and locals alike. There's roughly 1.4 million square feet of Class A office space nearby on Rocky Point, and we're expecting to get a lot of office traffic as a result. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said they're excited about the rooftop bar. There's probably not a better view to be had in the whole city, honestly. And it will have indoor and outdoor seating, so it'll be able to be utilized year round. And the architecture will be very modern so it will stand out, with lots of attention to detail.

Why develop a hotel there on Rocky Point? Considering highest and best use? One would have thought that a residential condominium would have been the way to go.
We were confident the hotel would do well based on the performance of the Westin Tampa Bay nearby and the Grand Hyatt Hotel, along with a few limited-service hotels in the area. Rocky Point is truly an urban oasis, it's just five minutes away from Westshore and five minutes away from Tampa International Airport, and it's right on the water. It's certainly not Main and Main, but that's part of the allure. The site is somewhat tucked away, despite how close it is to everything.

Any concern about the hotel market in the Tampa area?
We were very conservative in our underwriting, and from the discussions we've had lately with banks, it's getting tougher to get hospitality deals financed now, so that may work in our favor. But we really see the maturation of the Tampa market as a whole as a positive, with what we're doing, what (Jeffrey) Vinik is planning downtown in the Channel District and others. What's finally happening is that people are appreciating higher end hospitality, which is all about experience. If you can create that level of experience, people are going to appreciate that and they're going to come back as a result. Tourism numbers also have been rising steadily over the past several years, and we believe that's in large part because Tampa is really coming into its own. It's also no surprise to us that Epicurean and the Don CeSar do so well, because they are one-of-a-kind hotel properties, and we believe ours will be, too. The type of hotel we're doing, it costs more, there are certainly more headaches and more frustration, but we firmly believe the expense and energy on the front end will be worth it to get the kind of product we envision.

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