New hotel projects sign of 'Renaissance' of St. Augustine Beach | Kellogg & Kimsey

New hotel projects sign of ‘Renaissance’ of St. Augustine Beach



Elite Hospitality celebrated the “topping” of its new hotel Tuesday at St. Augustine Beach, but the Courtyard by Marriott is anything but the finishing touch on the area’s commercial beachfront development.

The 205-room hotel on A1A Beach Boulevard is one of three ongoing projects on that street along the ocean, and those almost certainly won’t be the last.

Manoj A. Bhoola, president and chief operating officer of Elite, said the Courtyard will serve as the company’s flagship hotel. Elite first developed the Hampton Inn on the same street just north of the Courtyard 17 years ago.

Now Elite has the Hilton Garden Inn, too, at the beach. The company also operates hotels in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach and Lakeland.

“We obviously like the beach area; we like the city of St. Augustine Beach,” Bhoola said. “We like the clientele, and we like the direction that it’s moving onto.”

The Courtyard is expected to open in December, but it won’t be the newest beach hotel for long.

The Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort is being transformed into the Guy Harvey Outpost, set to open in the spring of 2016.

And the former Beachfront Resort near the pier has been torn down to make room for an Embassy Suites that is scheduled to be open some time in 2017.

St. Augustine Beach Mayor Andrea Samuels said the development of new top-quality hotels at the beach is a sign of the desirability of the area as a top destination.

“I’ve been saying repeatedly that we’re on the verge of a renaissance,” Samuels said. “We’re no longer on the verge of a renaissance; we’re in it.”

As for the Courtyard, Samuels said the hotel will employ about 70 people and provide the city of St. Augustine Beach with about $52,000 of annual tax revenue.

All the new hotels should add to the success of other surrounding businesses, including the many nearby restaurants.

“If your commercial businesses are a success, residential taxes stay low. It’s a win-win,” Samuels said.

Kathy Catron, director of communications at the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, said visitor behavior has shown there is a need for good hotels in the area. She pointed to research that showed the average daily rate for St. Johns County hotels surveyed was $142.46 in May — the highest on record. She said demand for hotel rooms is up 7 percent for the last 12 months.

“The addition of new quality hotels like the Courtyard by Marriott will fill that growing demand, especially in an area of the county where there is room to grow tourism efforts — the beaches, which were ranked in the top 10 U.S. beaches by Trip Advisor this year,” Catron said in an email to The Record.

“New hotels that can deliver a higher average daily rate (and) bring additional jobs, which continues to positively impact the economy of St. Johns County and our quality of life.”

Bhoola called St. Augustine Beach his favorite market, which he knows can support the hotels. If there were more pieces of land available, he would be glad to open more hotels. The parcel next door to the Courtyard is empty, and he indicated that could be the site of a future project.

“When we started with the Hampton, we had to fill that niche,” Bhoola said. “But there’s a lack of supply of developable land. So except for the parcels that are already hotels, there really aren’t any [currently available].”

Samuels said the city has been glad to work with Elite because of the type of high-end projects it produces and the way it approaches them.

“We have a cooperative business that recognizes the community and the residents have needs,” she said. “And (is) willing to work with that community to minimize any impact (while) at the same time keeping an eye on economic prosperity. That’s a heck of a balancing act.”


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