ST. PETE BEACH — A year ago, the longtime owners of the Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center acknowledged they couldn’t afford the improvements it needed. They sold the 382-room hotel to a Texas company.
Now the new owner has launched a $15 million renovation aimed at leveling a playing field that includes two dazzling new hotels, the Opal Sands Resort and the Wyndham Grand on Clearwater Beach.
"There is more to come; this is just to get us where we need to be to compete against those Clearwater hotels," Cricket Wagner, the Sirata’s sales director, said of the renovations. "We are really changing not only our physical (appearance) but a total overhaul of the guest experience."
Crescent Real Estate, LLC, which partnered with an Atlanta company to buy the Sirata for $108.19 million in February, is banking on one big advantage the hotel has over some of it newer competitors — the Sirata sits right on the beach, unlike the Wyndham and the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach, which are across an often-busy street.
"That is helping us in the long run," Wagner said.
To capitalize on the Sirata’s location, the two pools at the north end of the 13-acre property will be remade into a single, much larger beachfront pool with a kids splash area. The pool will have a seating area "so you can sit and watch the sunset with a drink in hand," Wagner said.
Harry’s Beach Bar and Rum Runners Bar & Grille also are being revamped. The Sirata touts itself as the only hotel in southern Pinellas County with two beachfront restaurants.
"It’s great for those staying at condos (nearby),’’ said Jeff Abbaticchio, the Sirata’s marketing director. "They can just walk down the beach and walk up and experience our beach bars.’’
Harry’s gets its name from a patriarch of the Nicklaus family, which opened the hotel in the early 1960s and repeatedly expanded it. But the growth had stopped by 2002 due to local restrictions that have kept the Sirata and other St. Pete Beach hotels struggling to compete with the opulent Opal Sands, which opened in 2016 and the Wyndham Grand, which opened last year.
Even large, brand-name hotels are feeling the heat of competition — the nine-year-old Hyatt Regency recently completed a multi-million renovation to its guest rooms, public areas and meeting and event spaces.
Since its new owners took over, the Sirata has been run by HEI Hotels, which manages properties in several states under brands that include Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. In Tampa, it also runs the Westshore Grand on West Kennedy Boulevard and the Westin Tampa Waterside.
Although the Sirata lacks a brand name that could boost its profile, the hotel hopes to benefit from being independent at time when many travelers are looking for something different. To that end, talks are underway with local artists to paint murals on some of the hotel’s exterior walls.
"You see the excitement that murals brought to downtown St. Petersburg so we want to bring that excitement and uniquely local experience to the Sirata as well," Abbaticchio said.
The Sirata’s makeover includes redoing all 382 guest rooms with wood-look laminate flooring and a crisper color scheme ---bright white with yellow and royal blue accents replacing the dated red, orange and brown decor. The rooms are expected to be finished in March, when the busiest season starts.
Rum Runners will remain open after Harry’s Beach Bar and the surrounding pool area close Feb. 15. When that work is finished, around mid-July, Rum Runners will close for renovations that are expected to take until September.
"Basically, all the northern end of the property will be under construction at one time and all the guests will be on the south side using the south pool so they won’t really feel much of the renovation," Abbaticchio said. "And there will always be one restaurant open.’’
As for room rates, those could rise, although Wagner, the sales director, says they will remain "very reasonable" for the St. Pete Beach market.
"I don’t think anybody will feel out of their comfort zone," she said.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate