Fate of St. Regis Hotel plan in hands of Longboat leaders

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It’s been eight years in the making. Following lawsuits, wrangling over ownership and property rights and a series of lengthy hearings before the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board, the plan to rebuild the Colony site is at long last reaching the final decision makers.

On Monday, March 5 at 9 a.m., the Town Commission will deliberate on whether to approve the plan to scrape the former Colony and allow Unicorp to build a 166-room St. Regis Hotel and 78 condominiums. But the approval will likely not come quick and easy.

In fact, the following warning is also reserved to continue the discussion although Unicorp President Chuck Whittall said he hopes the commission will follow the recommendation of town staff and approve the plan by end of day Monday.

“Town staff has recommended approval of the entire project including the use of the tourism hotel pool, the departures and the size of the ballroom. There has been a tremendous amount of community vetting and negotiation to arrive at this point. This represents a huge opportunity for Longboat Key and I’m confident the commission will respect that,” Whittall told Longboat Key News.


Trafficking trouble

One issue that Whittall hopes has been assuaged is the size of the ballroom as well as the fear that special events will generate additional and unmanageable traffic. Those concerns led to Planning and Zoning Vice Chair Ken Schneier making a motion that was passed by his fellow board members last month to reduce the ballroom size from 10,000 square feet to 7,650 square feet. During the course of the hearings, Whittall submitted a traffic management agreement that requires the hotel operator to submit a traffic management plan to the town in the advance of any event exceeding 380 guests. Whittall also agreed to cap the size of any event held in the ballroom or meeting spaces to less than 425 guests.

The Commission will likely hear from dozens of members of the public both in support of the plan and some opposed. The public will have up to five minutes each to speak. By Town Code, the applicant can have up to 90 minutes to make his presentation and town staff will  likely have an equal amount of time to explain how it arrived at its finding of facts relative to the application, and how it came to recommend approval.

The application also comes to the commission with a recommendation of approval from the Planning and Zoning Board which passed the site plan with a 5-2 vote. The two dissenters did not agree with the reduction in ballroom size. One Planning and Zoning Board member wanted a further reduction and the other felt it was not reasonable for the town to reduce the ballroom below the requested 10,000 square feet.

The two other components of the application – the Outline Development Plan and the Planned Unit Development —  received 7-0 votes of approval.


Regulating outdoor spaces…

In the days following the Planning and Zoning Board approval last month, some residents expressed fear that the restriction to 425 guests does not include outdoor spaces such as the event lawn, beach or other activity areas. Whittall says that the desire to limit outdoor spaces has no precedent and is likely not legal.

“I never heard of anybody trying to regulate occupancy for outside spaces. Do we limit the number of tickets sold for the Lawn Party at the Key Club, which I heard was 1,100? Do we limit visitors to the public beach? I do not believe this is legal,” said Whittall.

Whittall says he is okay with the limit of 425 guests, but said that he has pared the plan down as far as is possible to keep the St. Regis on board and make it viable financially. He cites the benefits to the town as an increase in property values, getting rid of an eyesore, a tax benefit and creating a place for residents and visitors to cherish.

Whittall says if approved, it enables him to start the permitting process, bring his financial lenders what is necessary and immediately engage his architects to design the full build out of the interior spaces in the resort and hotels.

Just as importantly, Whittall says it enables him to see if a deal is possible with Andy Adams who owns more than 25 percent of the units within the still-existing Colony Condominium Association. If he is unsuccessful in working a deal out with Adams, Whittall says he will have to go to court and pursue a condominium termination to force a consolidation of ownership.

If all of the above scenarios go as Whittall hopes, he plans to finish the permitting by end of year and start construction in early 2019 with a completion date about 30 months later.

For those interested in attending the Commission meeting, it begins at 9 a.m. on March 5, in the John Ringling Room at the Longboat Key Club Islandside.

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Longboat Key News

4 Responses for “Fate of St. Regis Hotel plan in hands of Longboat leaders”

  1. ghostrider says:

    Mr Fleetwood,

    The intent was never to build it, but, rather to “flip it.” Fortunately, a Recession now has Mr.Whittall trapped and this fiasco will be put on hold. People are already being warned of Unintended Consequences but that’s to be expected. Alas, it’s a fitting ending.

  2. Blake Fleetwood says:

    Most new five star hotels go bankrupt within five years.
    Sarasota does not have direct connections to major cities to
    Attract large conventions.

    What’s interesting here is the Whittall admits he doesn’t have
    The money to build his $300 million development

    He has never built a major resort like this and given his
    Questionable financial past, nobody is likely to give him the money me

    If unicorn stays involved there will be nothing done for another seven years

  3. David Siegal says:

    I sincerely hope the town commission respects its planing board and approves the project instead of returning the property to years of the quaqmire of litigation with an uncertain ultimate development possibly without the benefit of the concessions made. It would remain a stagnant eyesore and loss of benefit of the increased tax base and assistance to the small businesses which will rightly feed off the resort.

  4. Marglo says:

    The plan is a total loser. The Colony worked because it attracted tennis players worldwide. The is no reason in the world to come to a 5 star hotel on Longboat Key. Once the hotel goes bankrupt there will be more condos to sell and area home values will decline. This “resort” is a disaster!!!

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