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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 26, 2019 4 weeks ago

Current events: New hotel represents continuation of a family legacy

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Taking up the mantle of his grandfather, a Tampa developer stared down significant risks and less-than-ideal market conditions to bring a new class of accommodation to the region.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

The name “Lifsey” has been associated with Tampa’s Rocky Point neighborhood for decades. Now Stan Lifsey, grandson of Julian Lifsey Jr., the man who keyed the commercial development of the area in the 1960s and '70s, has ensured the name will live on in perpetuity with the opening of Current, a new 10-story, $54 million Marriott Autograph Collection hotel perched on the edge of Tampa Bay at 2500 Rocky Point Drive.

It’s the first new hotel to be built in the area in more than a decade and represents a breakthrough class of accommodation for the area, Stan Lifsey says. And with an elaborate, spacious rooftop bar and terrace offering unparalleled bay and city skyline views, it should also draw happy hour celebrants from the area’s 1.4 million square feet of office space. Meeting and event space — 5,000 square feet of it — has also been prioritized.

“My grandfather certainly was a visionary, coming in and buying up a majority of Rocky Point back in the '60s when it was shell road and marshland,” Lifsey, 41, says. “It's been great for the grandchildren to continue his legacy of delivering quality development projects. We feel this is a great complement to the Tampa Bay market.”

Current represents Lifsey Real Estate & Holdings’ first hotel venture. The family business has largely been known for restaurant venues including Whiskey Joe’s, Rusty Pelican and Crawdaddy’s, the latter of which was razed to make room for Current.

“We're on the water — that certainly minimizes the risk — and the brand we're delivering to the market — that also minimizes risk.” Stan Lifsey, developer of Current, a new hotel in Tampa’s Rocky Point neighborhood.

What gave Lifsey the confidence to enter such high-risk, unchartered waters with a hotel project? One big reason: a great partner, Lifsey says, in Pinnacle Hotel Management, a company run by Ron Franklin and Dick Vilardo, a pair of former Marriott executives. Pinnacle will co-own the hotel and manage it.

“Pinnacle has been great to work with,” Lifsey says. “They viewed [the] asset very much as a long-term investment, the same as what we do as a family. This is an asset we are going to hold for generations, as we have with our other real estate.”

Solid partners aside, market conditions were a big obstacle. 

“Given the amount of liquidity it requires to develop now and where construction pricing is, plus my costs and so forth, it’s more and more challenging,” Lifsey says. “There are always good-sized risks in developing real estate, but you try to minimize the risks as much as possible. We're on the water — that certainly minimizes the risk — and the brand we're delivering to the market — that also minimizes risk.”

The developers enjoyed wide latitude in how they designed and furnished the property, typical of a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel. The Tampa Bay area boasts two other Autograph hotels: the Epicurean in South Tampa and the Fenway in Dunedin. The former markets to foodies while the latter is a restored historic property, and just like Current, they don’t feature a lot of corporate branding. That’s intentional, and it gives the developers the ability to feature the work of local artists on the walls and lobby amenities operated by Tampa-based Buddy Brew Coffee and Oxford Exchange.

There’s also a restaurant named Julian — in honor of Lifsey’s influential grandfather.

“As the hospitality market evolves, travelers are increasingly looking for unique experiences,” Lifsey says. “We wanted a lot of flexibility with textual design and interior design. That was a big focal point for us.”

Lifsey believes the hotel’s biggest selling point will be its location. Set at the end of a dead-end road and surrounded by greenery, Current has a secluded feel despite being part of such a densely developed area. And because of the way the land juts out into the bay and the positioning of the hotel, all 180 rooms offer a water view.

“On the second floor, it might not be as impactful as the seventh or eighth, but you’re overlooking the water no matter where you are,” Lifsey says, adding that rates will range between $275 and $350 per night, depending on the season. He expects Current, which will employ 110 people, to generate around $10 million in gross annual revenue.

Because of Rocky Point’s proximity to Tampa International Airport, business travelers will be a key revenue driver. “Marriott’s got a huge engine,” Lifsey says. “The platinum and titanium members will come stay with us. A lot of corporate travelers will come to a place like this. There’s nothing really like it in Tampa.”

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