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Global hotel design guru believes Tampa's time has arrived

Ian Schrager, building a luxury condo and hotel project in Tampa, believes the city is primed for a renewal.

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Ian Schrager, an iconic name in New York City nightclubs of the 1970s and the developer credited with inventing the boutique lifestyle hotel, rarely says he’s doing something he’s never done before.

Yet that’s where Schrager, co-founder of Studio 54 and the Morgans Hotel Group,  finds himself now — in Tampa. Schrager, 76, is a partner in Edition, a combo hotel and residences project that’s a key component of Water Street Tampa. A joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, Water Street is a $3.5 billion redevelopment of a large swath of downtown Tampa. Including Edition, Water Street is expected to have some nine million square feet of office, retail, residential, hospitality, cultural, educational and entertainment space when it reaches build out over the next five years.

While Schrager has worked on 11 Edition hotels worldwide in tandem with Marriott, from Miami Beach to Bangkok, the Tampa project, he says, is a first: he’s never been part of a hotel/residences that’s part of larger urban renewal. “I haven’t been involved in anything like this before,” Schrager says. “We are involved in a project that’s going to actually change the city. And that’s very exciting for us. This could be one of the best Editions we are doing. It’s going to be a very special place.”

The Residences at the Tampa Edition include 37 luxury condos, with prices starting at $2 million. The condos start on the 10th floor of the 26-story building, on top of a 172-room Marriott Edition hotel. Morris Adjmi is the architect and Roman and Williams is the lead interior designer. Residences feature 10-foot ceilings, expansive floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors leading to wraparound terraces with post-less glass railings, according to a statement. The residences will have views of Hillsborough Bay and Downtown Tampa.

Courtesy Chad Batka. Ian Schrager says
Courtesy Chad Batka. Ian Schrager says "Tampa is on the cusp of changing and getting the recognition it deserves as a leading city."

Schrager recently spoke with the Business Observer about the Edition and his career, speaking over Zoom from his home in New York. The interview was part of a virtual media tour touting the project — scheduled for completion by the end of 2021. Edited excerpts:

How does Tampa rank among other cosmopolitan cities you have developed hotels in, including Tokyo, Barcelona and Singapore?

A. Tampa is on the cusp of changing and getting the recognition it deserves as a leading city, maybe the gateway of South Florida. Florida has been evolving and exploding and first a lot of attention was focused on Miami and then Orlando. Now it’s Tampa’s time.

Q. With the Edition being the first branded five-star residence and hotel project in Tampa, were there any parts of this project you approached differently than previous ones?  

In staying true to ourselves, the people of Tampa who have the right sensibility to understand what we are offering are the same types of people who are in Paris, New York and L.A and all the other places. We wanted to do a very sophisticated, refined residential project. We weren’t adjusting it to Tampa – we wanted to do something as sophisticated and refined as any anything else we’ve done. That was the leap of faith we took, that the people of Tampa would respond to that.

How did Tampa get to the top of the list of places you sought to build an Edition project?

My job is connecting the dots in things to things that are going in in popular culture. I remember several years ago when Prince was coming out of Minneapolis, Supreme Court justices were coming out of Minneapolis, so I said I think I’ll go do something in Minneapolis. I think Tampa, winning the Super Bowl, and the scale of all the projects going on here, is all part of the energy of Tampa and what a great city it is to live in.

Outside of pandemic-led delays, what have been some of the biggest challenges you and the team have addressed with the Edition? 

The scale of the project (was the biggest) challenge. It’s completely transformational. It’s going to change Tampa. It’s going to move the center of the city.

Courtesy Strategic Property Partners.  The Residences at the Tampa Edition include 37 luxury condos that start on the 10th floor of a 26-story building, on top of a 172-room Marriott Edition hotel.
Courtesy Strategic Property Partners. The Residences at the Tampa Edition include 37 luxury condos that start on the 10th floor of a 26-story building, on top of a 172-room Marriott Edition hotel.

How has the pandemic impacted your company and approach to design and development?

The pandemic is a transitional, short-lived thing. I don’t really believe in paradigm shifts. Not because I know anything someone else doesn’t know. It’s just because I’ve been around a while and I don’t see people changing. We have a human condition. We like to socialize. We always go back to what we did before. Even with the flu of 1919, it lasted a couple of years and that led us to the Roaring Twenties. We are social animals. The pandemic has certainly made things difficult, with the lockdowns, and it might take a little while, but we will get back to where we were. Things will return to normal like they always do. I thought that a year ago and I think that now.

Do you have any plans to slow down or retire?

Not at all. I love my work. I tell my wife, this isn’t work. That’s why I still do it, because I love it. I tell my kids if you are lucky enough to be in a position to do something where you love what you do, it’s not work. This is the way I express myself.

What advice would you give to an aspiring developer or designer?

Be relentless in pursuing your vision. I mean you have to be amenable and nice and somewhat flexible but never compromise with your vision.


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