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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 27, 2019 10 months ago

Vantage point: Developer sees big opportunity in boutique property

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The Karol Hotel — a $30 million project — moves toward its opening day with several challenges at the forefront, particularly marketing.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Marriott International Inc. gives developers of its Tribute Portfolio, a line of boutique hotels, quite a bit of design leeway — so much so that casual observers might not even know they’ve set foot in a Marriott property.

Apparently that leeway extends to many other facets of the brand. How much space? Fred Bullard, CEO of the Bullard Group, a Clearwater-based property development and management company, has named a Tribute Portfolio hotel in honor of his wife, Karol, who, among other feats, is known for being Florida’s first female weather forecaster, a radio DJ and the founder of a finishing school for young women.

“Having the rooftop bar will give us an advantage over our two main competitors … out of the three full-service properties in our radius, we will be the only one with a rooftop bar.” Lindsey Ferguson, The Karol Hotel

Set to open in December, the $30 million, nine-story, 123-room The Karol Hotel is at 2675 Ulmerton Road, in the Feather Sound neighborhood north of St. Petersburg and east of Clearwater. It’s on a parcel that formerly housed a variety of entertainment establishments, such as Storman’s Night Club and a Yard of Ale franchise. Mainsail Lodging & Development, a Tampa-based firm that's also a consultant on the project, will operate the property. 

“The Tribute Portfolio is a small but growing brand within Marriott,” says general manager Adam Duffey, who previously managed the Staybridge Suites St. Petersburg Downtown. Marriott, he explains, inherited the brand when it acquired Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. Starwood had been developing the Tribute Portfolio in response to Marriott’s Autograph Collection, another line of boutique, less-branded hotels.

Both Tampa and Sarasota have Tribute Portfolio hotels, Duffey says, while The Karol will be the first in Pinellas County.

Mark Wemple. The Mainsail Group's Matt Duffey has high hopes for The Karol, which he will lead as general manager.

One obstacle? It’s in an area heavily populated with corporate headquarters, such as Raymond James and HSN, and it isn’t near any major tourist attractions. That means The Karol will be challenged to fill rooms on the weekends when business travelers typically aren’t passing through.

Bullard and Mainsail plan to attack that problem with top-notch amenities designed to attract local residents and workers who might not need a hotel room but want to experience the hotel’s fine-dining options and rooftop bar, dubbed Vantage, that offers sweeping views of Tampa Bay and the downtown Tampa skyline.

“A lot of our business will be that Monday-through-Thursday corporate traveler, so the weekends will be a little bit slower, which is extremely common for the area,” Senior Sales Manager Lindsey Ferguson says. “That’s where we think having the rooftop bar will give us an advantage over our two main competitors here: Hilton Carillon Park and St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater. So out of the three full-service properties in our radius, we will be the only one with a rooftop bar.”

To encourage non-overnight visitors to patronize the property, the hotel will have a separate side entrance that leads directly into the first-floor bar and restaurant area.

“We’ll try to cater to the locals on the weekend and just be a good neighbor,” Ferguson says of the management team’s strategy. A lack of weekend brunch options in the area, she adds, means the hotel stands ready to fill a niche while adding revenue.

A Karol Hotel standard guest room. The Marriott Tribute Portfolio property is expected to open in December. Courtesy photo.

Mainsail officials decline to offer revenue projections for The Karol Hotel, but Duffey and Ferguson say their goal is to achieve an average daily rate of $200 per room during peak season. Rates for standard guest rooms will range from $180 to $300, depending on seasonality.

“On average, our first-quarter occupancy rate is projected be around 90% or so,” Duffey adds. “And then during summer, when it’s a little softer, it’ll be around 70% or so. Then we’ll bounce back in the fall to around 80%.”

A rendering of the Karol Hotel's ballroom. The Marriott Tribute Portfolio property is expected to open in December. Courtesy photo.

In addition to the rooftop bar and first-floor bar and restaurant space, the property will also include a ballroom, two executive conference rooms, a swimming pool and a fitness center, which add up to a total of 7,340 square feet of event space. The general contractor is Roy Newsome, and the architect is John Bodziak.

Bullard also had the freedom to choose a branding firm for the project. He went local and selected Spark, a firm known for its work with the University of South Florida and Visit Florida, as well as the Fenway Hotel — a Marriott Autograph Collection property in nearby Dunedin. The result is a unique brand identity that doesn’t scream “Marriott” but presents another challenge: marketing to travelers who want to rack up loyalty points.

“It’s very much on us and our marketing to make everyone aware that, yes," Duffey says, "we are part of the Marriott family."

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