The newly opened Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota brands itself as an authentic arts experience. Will that translate to success in a crowded market?
A band played, an artist painted, students wrote poems and guests were invited to tour art on each floor at the mid-April opening night of downtown Sarasota’s Arts Ovation Hotel.
The 162-room property is a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel, a group of more than 140 hotels around the world that aim to tie in with elements of the local culture surrounding them. The Autograph Collection hotel in Tampa’s Soho District, the Epicurean Hotel, for example, has a culinary focus and is located across from Bern’s Steak House.
Art Ovation, across the street from Florida Studio Theatre and down the block from the Sarasota Opera House, strives to set itself apart by focusing on Sarasota’s arts scene. A partnership with Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design is a cornerstone of that plan. "We’re not just a hotel,” says Larry Abbo, CEO of Prime Group and a partner in Art Ovation’s development. “We’re a place for experiencing art.”
“To do something that’s all about the arts is a no-brainer. It was always about making art an immersive experience.” — Angus Rogers, president and CEO, Floridays Development Co.
The challenge that Art Ovation grapples with now: will experiencing art in a hotel setting, cool as it is, be enough to lead to sustained room bookings in what's become a hot hotel market?
Abbo and Angus Rogers, president and CEO of Sarasota-based Floriday’s Development Co., are confident the answer will be yes. Rogers, involved with the hotel’s development since the beginning, which goes back to 2012, says he had a big, bold vision of an arts-themed boutique hotel, and through the years, he just kept working on it. “I saw this as a legacy, landmark project for me,” he says.
“To do something that’s all about the arts is a no-brainer,” Rogers adds. Aspects of the project were refined a little, he says, but “it was always about making art an immersive experience.”
Lou Plasencia, CEO of Tampa-based hotel consultancy and brokerage The Plasencia Group, says he thinks Art Ovation will do “extremely well.” He says, “People today, travelers today — especially the millennial crowd and to a great extent Generation X — are looking for an adventure, looking for an experience. They’re looking for much, much more than ho-hum.”
Ringling College, of course, is the opposite of ho-hum. The college, well ranked in several academic areas, offers degrees tracks in fine arts, computer animation, creative writing, film, graphic design, illustration, photography and more. Graduates regularly earn spots at top companies such as Pixar, Disney, Apple, Hallmark and Ogilvy. “Ringling is the gold standard for all things art education," says Abbo.
The hotel’s inaugural arts exhibit showcases work created by Ringling College faulty and alumni. Their work fills the lobby and each floor. “Any time a hotel can partner with an institution like Ringling, any time you can offer an experience at your hotel that’s very different than any other hotel in your area, that’s a big plus,” Plasencia says.
At Art Ovation, guests can view finished art, watch it being made and make it themselves during classes and open studio time. A sketchbook in each room — with the first sketch drawn by a Ringling student — encourages guests to get in on the arts action right away.
Ringling students will also pitch ideas about how the hotel’s lobby could be used and will plan special events. The Ringling creative writing program is involved, too, and plans to host events at the hotel including poetry and short story readings and writing courses.
As Sarasota heads into the summer months — and the end of its busy tourist season — another question is whether Art Ovation will be able to maintain high occupancy rates. Rogers says when he moved to Sarasota in 1993, the end of season was more noticeable and businesses would see a decline in customers. Now it’s not as dramatic. “We’ve become more and more year-round.” Still, he says, the summer will be slower.
The hotel opened to guests in April. In front of guests assembled for the hotel’s opening, Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, says, “You could not have found a better theme for Sarasota, Florida. We appreciate your investment, and we’ll help you get a return on it.”
When Abbo spoke, he told the assembled crowd, “We’re just here to show the world what Sarasota’s all about.”