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On the Waterfront

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 9:21 a.m. April 15, 2011
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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The Gulf Coast hotel industry might not seem like recession salvation to locals, with everything from oil spill perceptions to bedbugs gumming up business.

But to Navid Kichi, the region is a sunny reprieve to the gloomy overcast in his native Canada. Kichi, in fact, describes Hamilton, Ontario, where his family runs a hotel management firm, as a worn-down steel town with few economic growth prospects.

That's why Kichi and his father, Sahar Hospitality President Oscar Kichi, targeted Florida for the company's first expansion into the United States. And after checking into at least 20 properties statewide the last three years, the firm settled on a reclamation project: to turn an empty waterfront property in south Manatee County that was once a popular Holiday Inn back into a success.

The site, a few miles north of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, has sat vacant since 2009. Investors bought the property in 2005 when it was a Holiday Inn, with plans to turn it into timeshare condos called the Sarasota Cay Club.

But that effort failed. Another set of investors, developers Daniel Kelly of Cape Coral and Michael Shrigley of Naples, bought individual units out of foreclosure in 2010.

The Kichis bought the entire property from Kelly and Shrigley for $3.35 million in a deal that closed Jan. 4. The Kichi family, which operates three hotels in Canada, since signed a license-brand agreement with Ramada.

“We looked at a lot of hotels,” says Navid Kichi, who moved from Canada to run the Ramada Waterfront and now lives in one of the rooms on the property. “This one really stood out.”

Nonetheless, the project isn't without risks.

For one, the market is highly competitive, with at least four mid-priced hotels in the nearby area. Several of those hotels, such as the Holiday Inn and the Hampton Inn next to the airport, are newly built with a bevy of features.

Kichi says the key differentiator for the Ramada Waterfront is just that, the waterfront. The back of the hotel has a 65-foot seawall in front of Bowlees Creek, which flows into Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. “We provide a waterfront property at an affordable price,” says Kichi.

He says that mid-market price point sets the hotel apart from both his airport-based competitors and the pricier Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota and Hyatt in downtown Sarasota.

Still, the property needed work. Kichi declined to elaborate on what it cost to renovate 80 of the 178 available rooms. He plans to renovate up to 60 more rooms within the next year.

“This place wasn't getting any attention for two years,” says Kichi. “It had to be brought up to higher standards. We didn't cheap out.”

Room renovations included a furniture upgrade and a deep commercial clean. Kichi also plans to replace the tube TVs with flat screens by the end of 2011.

The Ramada Waterfront project includes other upgrades. The floors and carpets in the lobby have been redone and Kichi plans to install new chandeliers for the entrance.

Kichi also brought in a resort-focused restaurant and catering firm from St. Mary's, Ga., to run the hotel restaurant and tiki bar. “Our skill set is in hotels,” says Kichi, “and we didn't want to get into restaurants.”

Finally, Kichi hopes the hotel's 7,600 square feet of meeting and banquet space will provide a competitive edge. The space can host groups of up to 400 people. “That's one of our main selling points,” says Kichi. “No one else around here has that.”

The numerous upgrades follow the pitch Kichi made to Ramada corporate executives late last year, when Sahar Hospitality went after the flag. “You can't do the medium when you bring in a brand,” says Kichi. “You have to go above and beyond.”


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