Article

The Buzz

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2006

Leading Question

Q. Are there enough rooms in the inns?

After years lamenting the loss of hotels and motels to condo conversions, tourism officials say the market is shifting. Two hotels (the 100-room Hotel Indigo and the 73-room La Quinta Venice) will be opening in Sarasota this year, and at least 12 other hotels are in various stages of planning. Together, they potentially add more than 1,000 rooms in Sarasota and Manatee in the next several years.

According to an estimate by the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, 19 hotels and motels were closed or demolished in Sarasota County since 2001, a loss of 609 rooms. The majority of them were on or near the water, and their loss was thought to be inevitable as property values, zoning changes and rising costs of waterfront construction made it less profitable to maintain or build hotels than to sell to condo developers. But hotel development has become hot again; and banks, traditionally leery of financing the construction of hotels, have loosened their purse strings.

"This is the first time in my career that lenders will talk about hotels. Valuations are way up," says Charles Githler, who attended the International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York earlier this summer. Githler, co-owner of the 294-room Hyatt Sarasota, (which is being sold to WCI for a 200- to 250-room high-end condo hotel that will rival The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, in quality), plans to build a 185-plus-room, full-hotel Embassy Suites on his property along North Tamiami Trail where the Yacht Center is being developed. "If you owned a hotel last year, it went up 35 percent in value in 2005."

Art Eckert, president of S.S. Appel & Company, will break ground on a 77-room Manor House Inn and Suites off S.R. 70 near I-75 next August or September for a market he describes as the transient traveler and corporate executive. Nineteen of these rooms will be condo hotel units, selling at $172,000 to $300,000 per room. He sees them as smart investments: They're affordable, and they will bring in income when owners don't want to use them.

"Look at occupancy rates for hotels in the area," he says. "In 2005, it was 83 percent. That is very good. Anything above 65 percent is pure profit. The rate structure of Q1 of last year was $109 a night; this year in Q1, even though occupancy was at 79 percent to 80 percent, rates were $145 a night. Hotels aren't sacrificing rates to fill their rooms. People are willing to pay for quality." (Sarasota's average room rate in February and March 2006 was $200 a night.)

And banks, he says, like the condo hotel concept. "A typical hotel operation, for the first five to seven years, is really scrambling to cover debt service," he says. Not so with a condo hotel, where buyers reduce the risk to banks and the developers' loan costs.

Susan Estler, director of marketing and public relations for the Bradenton Convention and Visitors Bureau, says she's seeing a shift to condo hotels in Manatee as well, where hotel inventory mostly has been one of boutique hotels; the Holiday Inn on Longboat Key, with its 146 rooms, was the only brand-name hotel to close. Many of the smaller hotels have managed to survive by changing to "condotels," she says. "There's been no loss of revenue. It's just a new way of doing business, and the consumer doesn't know the difference."

But all these new rooms do leave some questions hanging. Virginia Haley, the executive director of Sarasota's CVB, says she's thrilled with all the new hotel rooms. Downtown and mainland hotels do satisfy some visitors, says Haley, especially now that downtown Sarasota has become more of a destination. But the region's most famous asset is its beaches, and very little product is available out there. "It's time to get the community together for the big picture, take a look at our product and see what we want," she says.

And Githler sees an irony in all this good fortune: "Are we going to flood the market with rooms?"-Susan Burns

NO RESERVATIONS

After losing 609 rooms since 2001, hotel developers are proposing to add more than 1,000 rooms in the next several years.


MY FIRST JOB

interviewed by Abby Weingarten

Banker Rip DuPont learned his people skills in the Army.

Draft Account

Rip DuPont is CEO of First National Bank & Trust and chair of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and the Manatee Community College Board of Trustees.

"Three weeks after graduation from [the University of Richmond] in 1967, I was drafted by the Army. I had a double major in English and history, and I thought, because I was a college grad, they'd have me pushing buttons or working in an office. But they gave me a rifle. I was a private in the infantry. I had my orders to go to Vietnam as cannon fodder in early 1968. My orders were changed at the last minute when the North Koreans captured the Pueblo, and I was sent to South Korea.

"As usual, my luck didn't change, and they sent me right up to the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone], to an infantry battalion that had never seen a college graduate before. They didn't know what to do with me, so they put me in charge of the Army post office. I was there for 13 months. I had to go up to the front lines almost every day. In those days, both sides were shooting .50-caliber machine guns at each other. I could see them going over my truck as I rolled up the dirt roads.

"It all taught me what a silver spoon I was born with; the Army ripped it out, along with a couple teeth. I learned to get along with people, too. I don't think until you've been somewhere like that you understand how good you have it.

"When I came home, I started off as a stockbroker in Atlanta for a year and a half. In 1970, I opened a branch for Connecticut Bank & Trust. I've been in banking ever since, and I love it."

BUSINESS CALENDAR, beginning with a continental breakfast at 7:45 a.m. at the Chamber Boardroom, 1945 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Call 556-4034.

AUGUST 3 Greater Sarasota Chamber partners meeting

Venice Young Professionals networking event 5:30 p.m. at Honoluana Island Grill & Tiki Bar, 222 Airport Ave. E., Venice. $5. Call 488-2236.

Greater Sarasota YPG After Hours 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at The Tasting Room, 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota. No cover, no RSVP required.

AUGUST 7 Anna Maria Island Young Professionals meeting 7 p.m. at Duffy's, 5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Call 778-9679.

AUGUST 8 82 Degrees Tech after hours meeting Rebecca Torres-Lundh will discuss CAFTA and how Enterprise Florida can help tech companies do business with Central America. The "Microsoft Across America" truck will be outside, too. 5 to 7 p.m. at Manatee Community College, Center for Innovation and Technology, Lakewood Ranch. Call 870-0078 or e-mail [email protected]

AUGUST 9 Anna Maria Island Chamber new member breakfast 7:45 to 9 a.m. at the Sun House Restaurant, 111 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach. Call 778-9679.

AUGUST 10 Greater Sarasota YPG luncheon Guest speakers include Sarasota County Commission candidates. 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Sarasota University Club, 1605 Main St., Sarasota. $15 for members, $20 for nonmembers. E-mail [email protected]

AUGUST 13 Politickin' on the Pass Candidates for governor, statewide and local office take your questions in a glad-handing family barbecue atmosphere. Presented by the Englewood Chamber. Noon to 4 p.m. at Bay Harbor Ford, 1908 S. McCall Road, Englewood. $10 for members, $15 for nonmembers. Call 474-5511 or e-mail [email protected]

AUGUST 15 Greater Sarasota Chamber new member briefing 4 to 5 p.m. at the Chamber Boardroom, 1945 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Call 556-4034.

AUGUST 22 "Destination Downtown" Forum on the attainable residential overlap district presented by the Downtown Partnership of Sarasota. $25 for members, $40 for nonmembers. Call 951-2656.

AUGUST 23 Anna Maria Island Chamber Business Card Exchange 5 to 7 p.m. at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Call 778-9679.

AUGUST 24 Venice Chamber Business After Five 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hampton Inn & Suites, 881 Venetia Bay Blvd., Venice. $4 for members, $8 for nonmembers. Call 488-2236.

AUGUST 28 Venice Chamber network lunch Noon to 1 p.m. at Ophelia's, 1097 Tamiami Trail, Nokomis. $10. Reservations required; call 488-2236.

AUGUST 31 2006 Sarasota/Manatee Technology Conference "Integration at the Crossroads" is the theme, featuring presentations and discussions by local, national and international experts in the areas of business essentials, digital marketing and technology integration. 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Sarasota. $125. Produced by the Young Technology Alliance. RSVP at www.sarasotatechconference.com.

Venice Chamber Hob Nob 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Venice Community Center, 326 S. Nokomis Ave., Venice. Call 488-2236 for details.

FIVE QUESTIONS

interviewed by Abby Weingarten

LAND VALUE

The Nature Conservancy's Keith Fountain extols the economic benefits of preserving land.

Keith Fountain, Florida's director of protection for The Nature Conservancy, heads the land acquisition department in Altamonte Springs, which negotiates and buys land, often through partnerships with the state, county programs and water management districts. Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy is an international nonprofit organization responsible for protecting 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers throughout the world. It operates in 27 countries and has an office in Sarasota, at 1413 Boulevard of the Arts.

How has The Nature Conservancy impacted this region? We have assisted with the protection of land vital to preserving the plants, animals and places important to the people of Sarasota County. As the county's acquisition partner, the Conservancy has helped over the last five years protect more than 16,000 acres in 20 sites throughout Sarasota County, including miles of critical land along the Myakka River. Sarasota is one of 28 Florida counties to have passed some form of protection program.

What are your top three priorities in the coming year? First, we hope to develop new and additional funding sources for land acquisition, primarily through a successor program to Florida Forever. [The Florida Forever Program is the state's 10-year conservation acquisition tool, created in 2000. It's a bonded authority of $300 million a year by the Florida Legislature; $105 million goes to the Department of Environmental Protection to purchase conservation land.]

We also want to expand our efforts to work with the ranchers of central and southwest Florida. Because ranchers have a history of stewardship compatible with conservation, we have found success with conservation easements, which allow the ranchers to sell their development rights but still keep their land in production.

And third, we want to build on the success of the Sarasota County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program, by using it as an example for other counties to increase the capacity to protect natural habitats.

What are the top challenges on the horizon? The cost of land. Prices have risen sharply in the last few years, making it more difficult to fund the purchase of the large landscapes necessary for water and wildlife protection. This brings up another challenge: linking existing conservation lands to ensure their viability as large landscapes. It's also important for us to inform people about the importance of fire and the threat of invasive species to healthy native landscapes.

What has been the most impressive recent accomplishment? That the people of Sarasota County exhibited a high level of care for their lands, waters and way of life by voting to [expand protected] natural lands by nearly 80 percent. This vote, combined with a similar approval in 1999, will bring $303 million to the county for land conservation.

Does preserving natural land worsen our affordable housing crisis? It makes economic sense to preserve the best of Florida's natural areas. Our environment is a large part of why people move here and why they come on vacation from all over the world. Florida supports many thriving industries: tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, and residential development. None of those industries would thrive in a place that didn't have clean water and clean air, which are direct products of a healthy and functioning environment. Acknowledging and keeping the balance between a healthy environment and a healthy economy is a long-term formula for success. The Nature Conservancy works to see that's done in appropriate places. While growth should never come to a halt, there are places it should never come at all.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRUNCH

Percentage of Sarasota County households that are cost burdened, spending 30 percent or more on housing: 28.5

No. of households that represents: 108,121

Percentage of Manatee County households that are cost burdened: 26

Percentage of Sarasota County residents who spent 50 percent or more of income on housing in 2005: 18

In 2000: 11.4

Projected growth in affordable-housing need, Sarasota County, 2005-2025: 9,914 households (or 500 each year)

Median price of single-family home in Sarasota-Bradenton, April 2006: $353,000

Average median income: $55,900

Gap between what a family of four earning 120 percent of area median income can pay and cost of median-priced home: $143,260

Percent of pay the median price home costs for a Sarasota-Manatee middle school teacher: 690

Percent of pay the median-priced home costs for a sheriff or police patrol officer: 842

Percent of pay the median priced home costs for a machinist: 1,034

Source: Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing and the Florida Association of Realtors.

MIND YOUR MANNERS

Business etiquette from national restaurant consultant Judi Gallagher.

I'm applying for a job, and the company's top executives have invited me to lunch. Any tips on what to order and how to eat politely when you're expected to answer questions? Myrna Band, one of Sarasota's premier hosts, once advised me never to order a salad of mixed field greens. The greens get stuck between your teeth. Select a dish that requires small bites and preferably doesn't require you to use your hands, like a messy sandwich. Remember, of course, that garlic is the kiss of death, so avoid those pasta dishes. A tomato and mozzarella salad or grilled salmon are always good choices. If your host (and potential future boss) makes a recommendation-go with it, you will make her ego feel good. www.judigallagher.com.

BUZZ WORD The seemingly endless e-mail loop that occurs when everyone in the office feels they must add their two cents to that "Great Job!" company-wide e-mail from the boss. - Buzzwhack.com.

kudo loop:

Filed under
Share
Show Comments