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St. Pete hotel addition delayed 9 months, but owner remains optimistic

A colorful hotelier in St. Petersburg looks to build a hospitality company that focuses equally on people — employees and guests — and profits.


  • By Jim Stinson
  • | 5:00 a.m. December 18, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
A rendering of the vertical addition to the Cordova Inn of downtown St. Pete.
A rendering of the vertical addition to the Cordova Inn of downtown St. Pete.
Courtesy image
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The company that bought the historic 32-room Cordova Inn and an adjacent property in downtown St. Petersburg says the new 67-room vertical addition will open by Sept. 30.

A past estimate put the opening at Jan. 1, but the overall economic picture and supply-chain problems put the opening further down the calendar. Yet despite the challenges, the hotel company's CEO speaks with enthusiasm about the future of his four-hotel firm, the New Hotel Collection.

Tommy Del Zoppo, CEO and co-founder of St. Petersburg-based New Hotel Collection, says he desires to offer guests a unique "boutique" experience at his hotels, eschewing corporate standards and speaking of unique hotels he has visited himself.

The company owns the Cordova Inn; the New Hotel at the Harbourside Resort at Indian Rocks Beach; the New Hotel at Indian Shores; and the Central Hotel at Sevierville, Tennessee. Del Zoppo says 2024 could also bring two new Florida additions to the hotel company, though he declined to name the locations.

So what is the one standard that all New Hotels have? Del Zoppo says guests come first and that their word-of-mouth is vital.

"It's very important (guests) have a great experience," says Del Zoppo, a former Wall Street trader. "Our best marketing is the people who stay here."

The highly energetic and animated Del Zoppo says the relatively new company has been profitable, but that the culture is not about jacking up room rates so high, middle-income families get priced out.

"It's not about money," says Del Zoppo. "Where is the fun in that?"

The company has also rebounded from the pandemic. In 2021, New Hotel Collection had revenue of $13 million. In 2022, revenue jumped 38.46% to $18 million.

2023 has been challenging, Del Zoppo says, because 2022 was a hard act to follow. Now consumers are back to being more exacting, expecting hotels to be "good operators," he says.

It's a challenge Del Zoppo seems to relish.


Caffeinated strategy

Del Zoppo's energy may come from the coffee in the Cordova Inn's venue, The Scott.

There, Del Zoppo makes sure even the coffee served has a unique angle. For that reason, Del Zoppo chose St. Pete-based Hogg Batch Coffee Co. to serve its "disruptive brews" in The Scott. The coffee company is run by twins David and Duane Hogg, two Tampa Bay businessmen whose initial big break came from The Scott.

The company plans to establish The Scott at Harbourside Resort inn in Indian Rocks Beach too, with plans to open the new venue this month. The Scott in Indian Rocks Beach will also serve up the unique beans and blends Hogg Batch is known for.

"They do special beans for us," says Del Zoppo. "(Hogg Batch) are kind of the mad scientists of coffee. It's been a big success."

New Hotel Collection CEO Tommy Del Zoppo hopes to have the new addition to the downtown St. Pete Cordova Inn ready by Sept. 30.
Photo by Mark Wemple

One type of bean, Del Zoppo says, is aged in bourbon barrels. Del Zoppo can't seem to wait for the next idea.

"They are always pitching beans to us," says Del Zoppo. 

The specialty coffee gives the guests a St. Pete-type experience, Del Zoppo says, and the use of the beans in The Scott differentiates the Cordova Inn from coffee shops along Central Avenue, he adds.


Driven to differentiate

Del Zoppo, originally from Boston, spent 30 years on Wall Street — at financial powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs. He says he did his time working a type of job where there was little "work-life balance," and was happy to find a place where such balance exists.

He found that place because of a job offer — but not to him. In 2015, when he visited St. Pete as his wife mulled an offer from TV shopping network HSN, the sun, fun and unique urban character of the city opened his eyes to new possibilities. His wife took the job, and soon Del Zoppo followed her to St. Pete.

Now he had a new job: find a purpose in Florida. In 2017, he co-founded the New Hotel Collection with not even "two nickels to rub together." But he was happy to take on the task and raised the capital needed.

Targeting downtown St. Pete, the company spent $6.5 million on the two properties, a price Del Zoppo says allowed the company to spend a bit more on the construction of the new addition to the Cordova Inn.

Del Zoppo comes from another historic area: the North End of Boston, where he enjoyed watching hockey. He considered college in Boston, but attended Columbia University in New York City. He then went on to work in senior management positions in equity global trading at JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs in New York City.

As he stayed at the Vinoy on that trip with his wife, he watched people zip by on scooters. Del Zoppo seriously thought it was a gimmick to get people to believe the city was sunny, hip and cool. He soon realized it was not an act.

"I just couldn't believe the city," says Del Zoppo, apparently still in awe of the contrast. "It's a beautiful town ... You never know what's going to happen in life."

Del Zoppo had few barriers to entry, and he praises St. Pete and Pinellas County officials for welcoming the new company.

He insists part of his company's business culture is people pleasing, and that includes the 100 employees — whom New Hotel Collection declined to lay off during the COVID-19 downturn of 2020, paying them out of the owners' collective pockets.

"We have to be part of the community," says Del Zoppo. "Otherwise, what are we doing this for?"

 

author

Jim Stinson

Jim Stinson is the Business Observer's Tampa Bay business reporter and editor, having previously written about business and policy in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Gary, Indiana; and Daytona Beach. He attended Boston University for business and Indiana University for journalism.

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