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Room for Service

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2007

Two new and very different boutique hotels have expanded hospitality options in downtown Sarasota. The 95-room Hotel Indigo, adjacent to the Renaissance condominium tower on Boulevard of the Arts and U.S. 41, opened in October within days of the nine-room, independently owned Hotel Ranola at Indian Place and Ringling Boulevard.

The hotels are the first to open downtown since The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota in 2002. Since then, Sarasota County has lost about 600 hotel and motel rooms, mostly on the beaches, to residential development. With this dearth of lodging, investors are seeing the value in building hotels. About a dozen are in various stages of planning and construction throughout the two-county area.

Both Hotel Indigo and the much smaller Ranola promote luxury accommodations with the ambiance offered by urban boutique hotels.

"Indigo is more of an independent," says Rene Hampton, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Indigo, which is part of the InterContinental Hotels Group. "Each of the rooms is decorated differently, similar to what you'd see in New York."

The hotel changes its d├ęcor and ambiance with each season with what Hampton calls "seasonal renewals." For example, fall brought cinnamon-apple fragrance in the lobby and common areas, bowls of caramel candy at the registration desk and apple-stuffed pork chops in its Phi restaurant.

"Our target guest is a style-conscious traveler who wants something above a cookie-cutter hotel," Hampton says. "It's kind of like a retail concept; it changes to keep it new and interesting." Room rates range from $229 to $369, depending on the season. The hotel employs 40 people.

So far, InterContinental has developed five other Indigo hotels in large cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Nashville. In December, it announced plans for a hotel in downtown Fort Myers. Thirty more are planned, Hampton says.

The Sarasota Hotel Indigo is the chain's first franchise. It is owned by Sarasota resident Scott Tibbetts, managing partner of Paradise Hotels.

At the Hotel Ranola, proprietors Kim and Robert Livengood have converted the 1926 Mediterranean building back to its original use as a residential hotel.

When hotels started appearing on the beaches and downtown began to languish, the Ranola and other downtown hotels like the Orange Blossom, which now houses upscale condos, closed and became apartments. Both went through periods of decay and renewal.

Stepping into the Ranola from its Indian Avenue entrance, near the Ringling Boulevard post office, gives you a period feel, but once inside the rooms you're brought back to the very modern present. Fluffy pillow-top beds sit atop stainless steel and glass frames. Walls are purple and grey with stainless and glass tables and accessories. Kitchenettes have black and white floor tiles, new appliances and a sleek glass tables with steel bar stools. Suites have a separate sitting room with leather chairs. All rooms have wireless Internet, iPod docking stations and plasma TVs. Rates range from $119 to $189 a night.

The Livengoods say the timing was right for this kind of hotel because of the restaurants and amenities downtown. The couple did much of the renovation and decorating themselves.

"We designed a place we'd like to stay at," says Kim Livengood, 37, whose father, architect Barry Alexander, owns the building and is leasing it to the couple. She owns the Willow 506 clothing store on Hillview Street in Southside Village; her husband, Robert, worked in manufacturing and is now running the day-to-day hotel operations.

The Ranola doesn't have room service of its own just yet, but the couple is working with the owner of the soon-to-open Co Rina wine bar and restaurant in an Alexander-owned older building across the alley.

Livengood says she and her husband stayed at a lot of boutique hotels to figure out what they liked and didn't. They're promoting the hotel with a Web site (www.hotelranola.com) and through the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A month after opening, Livengood says they had their first full house.

"It feels good, it's exciting," she says. The couple may expand downtown on a vacant lot near the Ranola, but she says that's a few years off.

Far from feeling competitive pressures from Hotel Indigo, Livengood says she's glad the larger hotel opened at the same time.

"The more hotels Sarasota has, the more people can visit," she says.

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