Mark Wemple. The Best Western Bay Harbor Hotel in Tampa's Rocky Point district has been remade as The Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas Tampa.

Extreme makeover for scenic hotel, beach bar

A Tampa Bay beachfront hotel property with a colorful history has changed hands. The new owners hope to change the target market, too.
By: 
May. 25, 2018

Unless you’re a member of the much-ballyhooed millennial generation, you probably remember the glory days of “Hulkamania” in the 1980s, when Tampa’s own Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hulk Hogan, ruled what today is known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Sullied by scandals, including a lurid sex-tape trial, Hogan’s star power waned in recent years, and his brand hit an all-time low when he was banned from WWE. So it came as no surprise that the Rocky Point beach bar and restaurant to which the “Hulkster” licensed his image, Hogan’s Beach, was put up for sale. (More property history: until 2005 it been owned by longtime New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who, like Hogan, was no stranger to controversy.)

“This is a little bit of South Beach plopped down right beside Tampa Bay.” John Rutledge, Oxford Capital Group's founder, president and CEO

Officials with Chicago-based Oxford Capital Group, a real estate investment and development firm focused on hospitality projects, saw opportunity in the six-story, 261-room property — particularly in the lucrative business traveller market. Oxford Capital bought both Hogan’s Beach and the adjacent Best Western Bay Harbor Hotel from Ben Mallah, principal of Equity Management Partners, for $34.5 million in 2015.

Behind a multimillion-dollar facelift, Oxford has since renamed it the Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas Tampa. It’s the first Tampa Bay project for Oxford, which also has Godfrey hotel properties in Chicago, Boston and, opening next year, Hollywood, Calif.

“Our vision was to take this irreplaceable waterfront real estate and do a dramatic physical upgrade and operational repositioning,” says John Rutledge, Oxford’s founder, president and CEO. “We’re taking it much more upmarket.”

The hotel and beach bar weren’t exactly slum-type properties previously, but the vibe was more spring break than upscale waterfront bliss, and Hogan’s Beach had become known for raucous concerts that drew noise complaints. Renovations include 15 new guest rooms, extensive renovations to existing rooms and new, nautical-themed décor throughout the building.

Mark Wemple. The hotel's lobby has received significant upgrades.

Hogan’s Beach, meanwhile, will make way for a sparkling new pool surrounded by private cabanas that feature flat-screen TVs and mini-fridges. The hotel’s lobby and public spaces — such as the pier, with its picturesque gazebo offering sweeping bay views — have also been upgraded, and a café and wine bar have been added to the list of amenities.

“This is a little bit of South Beach plopped down right beside Tampa Bay,” Rutledge says, adding that with the pool and cabanas opening for business soon, the company is hiring and expects to employ 150 to 175 people at the property. “Also, it’s almost directly on the water, which is a unique feature that most of the area hotels don’t have, other than the Clearwater Beach [properties].”

Mark Wemple. An upgraded guest room at the The Godfrey.

Rutledge declined to disclose revenue goals for the Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas Tampa, but says that he expects the hotel to be “a top performer” in the market. “We expect revenues to go up dramatically, as well as profitability.”

Not only is Oxford’s new acquisition right on the bay, it’s also near Tampa International Airport and the city’s Westshore business district, so Rutledge says the business traveler will also be a vital cog in the company’s marketing strategy.

“Hotels have to appeal to a wide spectrum to be successful,” he says. “We hope to leverage off of the citywide conventions, where people want to be close to downtown but also have a unique waterfront Florida experience that they might not get in a downtown hotel. Tampa Bay is not just a leisure destination anymore. It’s a robust, growing business city and we expect to make a big push to attract the business traveler.”

Further sweetening the pot for business-minded guests is a dedicated events space — adjacent to the pool and cabana area and overlooking the bay — that can be used for everything from corporate gatherings and private parties to wedding receptions. Rutledge believes all of the above will help the property not only survive, but thrive, during the summer tourism slowdown.

“We’ll also be making a big push for locals to come check out [the pool and cabanas],” he says. “We think it will be particularly desirable in summer. You’ll be able to chill out by the pool and have misters going to keep you cool. You’re on the water and you get the views of the water but you’re still able to be outside, in a covered, shaded cabana. We think it will be a big feature that will bring people outside, even in the hot summer months.”