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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 29, 2016 2 years ago

Having a ball

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A developer sheds the land game for boutique beach hotels, with more than $4 million at stake. Success, says Henry Rodriguez, is all in the details.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Henry Rodriguez is going small.

The prominent Sarasota area developer has traded 1,000-acre land deals for boutique hotels near Siesta Key. “I'm finding my passion,” says Rodriguez, 53, who previously developed a Wal-Mart Supercenter and the 41-acre Bay Street Village and Towncenter in Osprey, among other projects. “I love this.”

His first hospitality project was a 22-room hotel in south Sarasota County, which he bought in late 2014 for $1.3 million and renamed the Nokomis Inn & Suites. His next, and more elaborate project, is a makeover of the old Elephant Ear Suites on 1800 Stickney Point Road, just across the bridge from Siesta Key. Rodriguez paid $1.9 million for the hotel complex in May, and has quickly spent at least $1.1 million in renovations. He renamed the property, with three buildings and two pools, the Siesta Key Palms Resort. It opened for business in late June.

The goal with the project is to make it feel Old Florida, but emphasize classy over kitsch. The hotel has 21 rooms, and rates for standard suites start at around $150 in the summer and increase during Season. Smaller rooms start at $99.

“What a lot of people (on Siesta) sell you is a hotel room, but we are selling an experience that happens to come with a hotel room,” Rodriguez says. “Why does Old Florida have to be rundown? It could be luxurious Old Florida.”

The Stickney Point property, the Tides Inn Motel and Sunset Lodge for decades, had Old Florida stamped all over it. The parking lot was at the front, and was the first thing guests saw. The rooms and furniture were dated, the in-room air conditioning rattled.

With a lesson learned from his large-scale development days, Rodriguez says a key component of the Siesta Key Palms project is an obsessive attention to details. That includes audio speakers behind palm leaves that play relaxing spa sounds. The hotel rooms have new Tommy Bahama furniture and new air conditioners, in addition to renovated showers, new floor tiles and new plumbing. Every room now has a safe and a kitchenette.

“We just wanted perfection,” Rodriguez says. “We took every detail into consideration.”

Upgrades outside the rooms include an open play sand area that's a foot deep, so kids have more shovel space; a dozen large hammocks; and a large Tahitian-themed hut outside the main pool to provide extra shade. Future projects include converting a laundry room to a massage room and a adding a continental breakfast nook to a screened-in lanai.

Rodriguez has more commercial real estate projects in the works. One is a major upgrade and expansion at the Nokomis Inn & Suites, where there are five vacant acres. That includes a Jimmy Buffett-style tiki bar and restaurant.

And Rodriguez recently bought a 15-unit apartment complex on Arlington Street in Sarasota, across the street from one of the largest employers in the region — Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Rodriguez paid $1.3 million for the complex, property records show.

With each new project Rodriguez moves further away from big-ticket land deals and supersize developments, which is fine with him. Some of his land holdings, he laments, dropped 90% in value during the recession. Rodriguez also plans to buy several more small hotel properties on Siesta Key, looking for ones with land available for expansion.

Then he wants to recreate what's he done with Siesta Key Palms. “Many people passed on this,” Rodriguez says. “No one wanted this hotel because no one else saw the value.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon

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