Former 'Pink Palace' poised to return hotel to prominence

cschelle@bradenton.comMay 19, 2013 

Like a dubutante readying for her coming out party, the former "Pink Palace" is all dressed in white and preparing for her debut.

Renovations to the hotel, 309 10th St. W., are expected to be completed by the end of November in time for the second annual Bradenton Blues Festival. When it opens, about 50,000 guests are expected to stay at the hotel annually, offering a $2.5 million economic impact to Bradenton. The hotel now has an official name, too: Hampton Inn and Suites Bradenton Downtown Historic District.

A Syracuse, N.Y.-based company, Widewaters Group, is in the midst of transforming the aging building into an elegant hotel. Folks are clamoring to have their event booked at the hotel and have contacted Widewaters Hotel Management Co., for possible dates before a sales manager was even in place, said Brian Long, director of development for Widewaters.

"Some people have contacted the hotel management company and started a dialogue about events they wanted to book there," Long said, adding that spring training dates were of interest for at least one group. "Sometime in the summer we will have a sales manager on staff and that person will be working on events and group bookings."

For regular bookings, Hampton Inn is anticipated to have the hotel in its system in the fall, Long said.

Widewaters received more than $1 million in incentives and $1.5 million in tax rebates from the city for the renovation of the historic hotel, and broke ground in January. Construction is at the halfway point, revealing a new look for the building as workers turn their attention to interior improvements for the next several months.

"We've seen the emphasis the city and county placed on the renovation of downtown," Long said. "One of the main reasons we're involved in this is we believe they had a vision to be successful in that and we wanted to be a part of it."

Widewaters is in the midst of getting the building on the National Register of Historic Places and is adhering to strict National Parks Service standards for the $15 million rehabilitation. That's why folks are seeing white with turquoise tiles on the building instead of the pink, which wasn't original but came in the last 40 years. Inside, the hotel's lobby, ballroom and exterior walls will be returned to their 1920s charm as well.

"A lot of the legwork started three years ago when we first got into the project," Long said. "We had an historic architect that researched the hotel and researched a lot of pictures for the interior and exterior," Long said.

Working with both the State Historic Preservation Office and the Parks Service, Widewaters received certification that the property was historic, are working within guidelines for what needs to remain and what needs to be restored, and when finished, the entities will verify that Widewaters implemented the plan in order to receive certification, Long said.

"One of the most unique amenities is that the entire first floor is being restored to its historic time period -- the lobby and the vaulted great room in the rear of the building," he said. "That is something people have expressed interest in for banquets and wedding receptions."

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. The hotel will offer people a place to stay after a day seeing spring training at McKechnie Field, or a play in the Manatee Performing Arts Center or shopping in the Village of the Arts.

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 and restaurants, said David Gustafson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.

The hotel lacks a restaurant, so it's an opportunity for restaurateurs downtown, Long said.

"All of our guests need to eat out for lunch and dinner. The Hampton Inn operation has free breakfast for our guests, but we don't have a dining facility for lunch and dinner," Long said. Special events will be catered, and the hotel will find businesses in the community to provide for those events, giving another chance to boost the local economy, he said.

All of those guests staying at the hotel will need a place to park, and that plan is coming together.

Widewaters secured parking through a 70-year lease at a county-owned lot for 25 spaces across the street from the hotel, and has 40 on-site spaces at the hotel.

Workers will be installing 20 angled spaces along 10th street for hotel guests and additional overflow parking will be provided by the City of Bradenton in city-owned spaces and lots, Long said,

The hotel was built in the mid-1920s by the Van Sweringer Co., of Cleveland, for $850,000.

The hotel attracted deep-pocketed patrons until it closed in the 1960s as the Manatee River Hotel, and came back to life as a senior home called the Riverpark Hotel. The senior residence closed in 2005 and it has remained vacant since.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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