TAMPA — The Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina opened in 2000 as a showpiece for the city, so how much updating could it really use?
More than you might expect.
The hotel is well into a $40 million renovation that is expected to be done by early next year and to re-think what people — both guests and bay area residents — would like from its rooms and public spaces.
Here’s one example: Champions Sports Bar. It closed last week. When the Waterside opened, sports bars still offered a distinctive experience — watching games on giant screens — that today has largely been replaced by the huge, high-definition TV in your living room (that is, when you’re not watching something on a small screen in your hand).
So the Waterside plans to re-open that space as a gastropub run by a restaurant company with a national reputation. It will feature local craft beers, have two Topgolf practice bays and include new patio seating to engage diners more with what’s happening at Amalie Arena.
Another example: the waterfront patio behind the hotel. Originally, it included a lot of planters and palm trees that effectively created a barrier and a feeling of exclusivity. Those are going, to be replaced by a more open space with seating pods right next to the Riverwalk.
"Now that the Riverwalk is so activated, you want to draw people in," Marriott Waterside general manager Ron McAnaugh said Tuesday. An over-arching goal, he said, is to make the hotel "more approachable."
That’s consistent with the larger goal of the hotel’s owner: Strategic Property Partners, the joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the Bill Gates private capital fund Cascade Investment that is developing the larger $3 billion project known as Water Street Tampa. The partnership paid $150 million for the Marriott Waterside in 2014 and is paying for the renovation now.
Most of the renovation’s budget, $26 million, has been spent on upgrades to rooms, including adding hardwood flooring, walk-in showers and 55-inch TVs configured to let guests program their own entertainment via Hulu and Netflix instead of buying movies. The project also is splitting some lower-level suites into separate rooms, bringing the hotel’s total to 727.
Workers also have updated the pool and deck, are adding a Starbucks, will refresh the hotel’s meeting spaces, paint the exterior — "we’re going to tone it down a little bit," McAnaugh says of the hotel’s orangish hues — and create a more open lobby. Part of the lobby work will entail getting rid of the imposing reception desk in favor of smaller work stations that allow hotel employees to step out for more personal conversation with guests. Part of it will mean removing the 16 indoor palm trees that, McAnaugh acknowledges, have their fans, but also obscure a lot of what you can see inside the lobby.
The makeover is scheduled to be finished by early 2019, but that’s just part of Waterside Tampa’s ambitious vision for the hospitality pieces of its 50-acre mixed-used development.
Next door to the Marriott Waterside, construction began in late April on a 519-room JW Marriott. And a 173-room Marriott Edition is scheduled to open in early 2021 as part of a 26-story tower planned at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street, across the street from Amalie Arena.
Marriott executives have said the decision to locate three elements of the larger brand within a few steps of each other reflects their confidence in the "extraordinary potential" they see in Tampa.
"I think Tampa is ready to move to the next level," McAnaugh said.
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