Culinary Condo Hotel

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2006

Sean Murphy, owner of the nationally known Beach Bistro restaurant on Anna Maria, plans to create a 20-room boutique condo hotel worthy of his award-winning appetizer Death by Foie Gras.

Murphy, who has owned the Beach Bistro since 1985 and acquired the adjoining Beach Inn a year and a half ago, will renovate the existing hotel to luxury standards and construct a second building next door for more rooms.

Murphy says the move just makes sense. Like other beachfront business owners, the restaurateur-hotelier has felt the crunch of skyrocketing taxes and insurance. The taxable value of hotels on Anna Maria has gone up 58 percent to $60 million since 2004, according to the Manatee Property Appraiser's office. An advantage of the condo-hotel arrangement is that the condo owners pick up the taxes and cover most of the insurance. And Murphy envisions that many of his buyers will be restaurant customers who want a regular carefree getaway in luxurious surroundings.

Murphy estimates it will cost about $6 million to bring his hotel up to par with his dining room. He's brought in four partners, Larry Starr, Joe Gaudio, Lance McNeill and Ken Dardis, who own the Tidemark Hotel a half-mile away, where Murphy may open another small restaurant.

Architect Gene Aubrey, who designed Selby Public Library and the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, has drawn up the plans and Whitehead Construction will build the hotel. Murphy expects some of the rooms to be finished in early 2007. Rooms will be about 650 to 2,000 square feet and equipped with espresso machines, microwaves and room service provided by the Bistro.

While the Bistro's cuisine is an easy sell to people accustomed to spending three figures for dinner, the condo hotel idea is far from a sure thing. In a cooling real estate market, Murphy and his partners will have to convince 20 buyers to pay up to $900,000 for a room that doesn't have a full kitchen.

After the units are sold, a hotel management company will rent them out with the owner getting a percentage of the nightly room rates, which will be $350 and up, nearly double the current rate. He sees more synergy between the planned hotel and his restaurant, with "culinary weekends" featuring famous guest chefs. "We'll have breakfast and lunch for guests only and special events," says Murphy, whose restaurant is now only open for dinner.

"It's a great business and one I enjoy," says Murphy. "We get to make people happy."

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