BRADENTON -- Manatee County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Bartz has a front row seat to the "Pink Palace" renovations.
Bartz, whose office is across the street, hears regularly from tourists, residents and business people who stop in to ask about the work being done on the historic hotel.
"It's such a historical, iconic structure that's been talked about for so many years, that to see it come to fruition now is certainly exciting, and certainly going to add vitality to our downtown area," Bartz said.
The area is short on hotel rooms, and this will add to the inventory for the already-busy season of events planned, including rowing events along the Riverwalk.
Having another downtown hotel in place with amenities nearby has led to talks with major developers from Chicago, New York and Miami about other downtown projects, says David Gustafson, executive director for the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority. He's in talks trying to woo three more restaurants downtown.
"They're not just kicking the tires," he said. "They're coming into town making a determination of how they can make it work."
One of the restaurants could open late this summer, Gustafson said, but he declined to offer any names. He did say the restaurant would be a mid- to high-end eatery.
Existing restaurateurs are also eager for the hotel to open.
"The restaurants downtown are excited that this might help their business, because this hotel won't have a restaurant in it per se," Bartz said.
In the coming weeks, the scaffolding will come down on the historically dubbed "Pink Palace" as it continues its transformation into a Hampton Inn & Suites.
Renovation is nearing the halfway point, and as the windows are installed and beige paint helps transform the exterior, the hotel of many names is generating buzz.
"The buzz around the community is incredible about getting the old girl back into order," said Gustafson.
The 115-room hotel isn't even suitable yet for tours of the site, and officials have been clamoring to get a peek inside ever since work began Jan. 17. Some people are already trying
to line up dates not waiting for construction to be complete, Gustafson said, although reservations aren't being accepted yet.
"People are contacting our Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Development Authority and every day people reach out to me and say I want to book a wedding, I want to book an event or conference," Gustafson said. "To think it's six months out, but everyone wants to lock in those dates."
The $15 million hotel renovation aims to revive some of the building's charm from the 1920s through 1960 when it was the Manatee River Hotel and folks with deep pockets stayed there. The building later became a senior citizens residence called the Riverpark Hotel and closed in 2005.
Today, a sign hangs on the corner showing the building off as the Riverpark Grande.
"I know my DDA board, anytime I say that ("Pink Palace"), they give me a hard time for saying it," Gustafson said. "We're all going to have to change their name and we'll see what name sticks."
What passersby see at the top will be the hotel's final color, reverting back to the historic color of the hotel and replacing the pink that many in Bradenton have grown accustomed to over the last 30 to 40 years, Gustafson said. While some would say pink is their favorite color, Gustafson said the new treatment is growing on him.
"A lot of us were thinking we want the pink to come back, but I'm actually falling in love with the color on the walls," he said. "It makes the color of the blue aqua tiles around the windows jump out now."
The goal for the contractor, Widewaters Hotels, is to seal up the building before rainy season kicks in, paint from top to bottom, and then move on to the interior improvements, Gustafson said. Inside, detailed woodwork, finishing and intricate paintings will decorate the hotel.
The projected opening date is the end of November or beginning of December, he said.
Widewaters Hotels officials didn't return messages requesting comment for this report.
"Their marketing people are working toward the date they have and want to be open by the time the Bradenton Blues Fest occurs, which is the first weekend in December," Gustafson said.
The bluesfest at Riverwalk is designed to bring people right in the heart of Bradenton to stay, party and play. Hotel Officials have been planning all along to build on the success of Riverwalk, as well as the beaches, as they project 50,000 visitors a year will come to stay at the hotel and provide a $2.5 million annual economic impact.
"It's going to be a major shot in the arm for the City of Bradenton and Manatee County," Gustafson said.
With each piece of downtown falling into place -- Manatee Players, Riverwalk, Hampton Inn, Art Center and planned improvements for the Village of the Arts -- excitement is building in Bradenton.
"There seems to be optimism -- not just because of the hotel -- but because of the Riverwalk, the Manatee Performing Arts Center opening up, and there seems to be a lot of synergy downtown that kind of have people kicking the tires downtown," Bartz said.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.