Rejuvenated Vinoy resort to toast a splendid decade
The resort will have a party - and you're on the guest list
- to celebrate its renaissance.
By MARY JANE PARK
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 7, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- For a decade, the Renaissance Vinoy Resort
and Golf Club has drawn visitors to the St. Petersburg waterfront
for celebrations large and small.
The hotel opened on New Year's Eve 1925 and has been a fixture
since, even as it sat vacant and in disrepair after closing in
A series of investors envisioned, then abandoned, plans to
refurbish the property until the Stouffer chain engineered the
$93-million renovation that enabled the Vinoy to reopen in 1992.
By comparison, initial estimates for constructing a domed
baseball stadium -- now Tropicana Field -- were $60-million,
although the totals eventually rose to $220-million after improvements
The resort will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its grand
reopening Saturday. Activities, refreshments and entertainment
are free and open to the public and include an exhibit by bay
area artists, historic tours and birthday cake.
Relative newcomers may find it hard to believe that vagrants
once took refuge inside the Mediterranean Revival-style building
or that a generation of hometown youngsters tell of playing volleyball
and other games inside the vacated grand ballroom, liberating
abandoned files and trashing old hotel china.
When exterminators put up termite fumigation tents around
the hotel in the spring of 1990, it was a sight to behold.
Those were elegiac moments for a once-elegant structure erected
during Florida's boom years, when tourists flocked to the Vinoy
for the winter season, swimming and sunbathing during the day,
dressing for dinner and dancing through the night. The U.S. Air
Force leased the hotel as a barracks for its trainees in St.
Petersburg during World War II. Afterward, it regained prominence
as the city's premier stage for social and charitable events.
The Vinoy's decline and eventual resurrection reflect other
events in the Sunshine City's downtown.
"I think it made all the difference" in St. Petersburg's
resurgence, Elaine Normile said of the refurbished resort. She
was part of the reopening team and now conducts the Vinoy's history
"I think the name of this resort now, being Renaissance,
is so appropriate," she tells visitors. "Not only the
renaissance of the Vinoy, but of downtown and the neighborhoods.
"After 18 years of being an eyesore and a liability to
St. Petersburg, a place for people to break into and carry on,
people just flocked here" (for the reopening in 1992), she
"We couldn't get the doors wide enough to let people
in. Everybody was so thrilled to see it so alive and welcoming
again. And it hasn't stopped."
In the years since, the resort has been host to conventions,
charity fundraisers, weddings, proms and other festivities. It
has been a temporary home for celebrities, including movie stars,
musical performers and professional athletes. It acquired the
old Sunset Country Club on Snell Isle, renovated the building
and restored the golf course.
It added the $10-million Palm Court Ballroom, which can accommodate
about 800 people and large events such as boat and automobile
shows. A city referendum in 1997 approved construction of the
convention center, which opened in 2000; the vote was required
in order to change the use of the land from park space.
The resort took over management of the day spa and salon this
The hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places,
and the resort and golf club have been accepted into the National
Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Hotels of America
Renovation of all 360 guest rooms will begin in October, said
general manager Russell Bond.
"The owners continue to invest in the future of the Vinoy,"
he said. About $4-million will be spent on new furnishings, bedding,
lighting and decor. Bond said the plan is "to make the rooms
feel very residential ... to totally restore and bring our rooms
up to date."
Vinoy Place, a luxury town home and condominium development
next door, is a separate entity.
A hotel reborn, a city revived
For St. Petersburg's hub,
the renovation of the Vinoy 10 years ago was the catalyst for
a revival of 1920s splendor.
photos: Kevin German]
main tower of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort overlooks downtown
St. Petersburg as the sun sets. The hotel will celebrate the
10th anniversary of its grand reopening with a free open house
today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 10, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- City economic development director Ron Barton
politely declined the salmon bruschetta Friday as he stood in
the luxurious community room at the new Madison apartments in
downtown St. Petersburg.
Orlando-based developer ZOM held a luncheon in the first finished
building to celebrate and invited Barton and other city officials.
To Barton, the building of the Madison is a direct result
of the rebirth of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort a decade ago.
"To me, it's amazing what results have come in 10 years
in the downtown," he said. "The renovation of the Vinoy
was a watershed in the redevelopment of downtown."
From 1975 to 1990, the big Mediterranean Revival hotel stood
vacant and vandalized, a symbol of the deterioration of downtown
St. Petersburg. Once investors spent $92-million to restore it,
projects such as condominium towers, new restaurants, the BayWalk
entertainment center -- and now the Madison apartments -- followed.
"Until the Vinoy was done, it was an obstacle to redevelopment,"
said Marty Normille, the former executive vice president of the
St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. "Whenever we'd pitch
St. Pete to a developer, inevitably, they would say, 'What about
that eyesore over there?' "
So the city had to talk about its renovated pier and the hope
that Major League Baseball would send a team to occupy the new
domed stadium the city was building, city development administrator
Rick Mussett remembers.
Once the Vinoy was redone, it lent credibility to Mussett's
pitch. In fact, the Vinoy was the ideal spot for prospective
out-of-town developers to stay as they studied building projects
in St. Petersburg.
cavernous lobby of the Vinoy, a Mediterranean Revival hotel that
underwent a $92-million renovation 10 years ago, is elegantly
illuminated in part by chandeliers.
The Vinoy helped to restore a relaxed and luxurious tone downtown,
the atmosphere it had as a winter home for the well-off in its
1920s heyday. St. Petersburg had exchanged that image for one
as a magnet for elderly retirees on a tight budget.
Mike Cheezem, the CEO of developer JMC Communities, said the
Vinoy had opened the way for the Florencia, the luxury condominium
high-rise his company built downtown in three years ago.
"It was a real big factor in our decision to build that
community, the Vinoy's stature, its success, the quality of what
they did, the clientele they were attracting," he said.
It helped his company sell the expensive condominiums.
"To be able to go there for dinner, to be able to put
guests up there, all that is just a big plus in the minds of
our owners," Cheezem said.
Mayor Rick Baker was formerly the Chamber of Commerce chairman.
"I have always felt that bringing back downtown was a
three-legged stool: Getting the Vinoy renovated, bringing baseball
downtown, and getting an entertainment center into downtown,"
he said. "The Vinoy really kicked off the renovation of
downtown St. Petersburg."
The benefits have been more than psychological, said general
manager Russell Bond.
"We have created an employment base for over 500 people
and revenues of over $30-million a year that are pumped into
the St. Petersburg economy," he said. "Shop owners
on Beach Drive say, 'Your guests are always coming over to our
store,' and our guests are at BayWalk all the time."
At the Madison, the apartment floor plans have names: the
Gilchrist, the Frankland, the Tomlinson.
The most popular is a 1,518-square-foot, two-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath
townhouse that leases for $1,695 per month.
It's called "the Vinoy."
If you go
The Vinoy will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its grand
reopening with a free open house today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A parking shuttle will run from North Shore Park.
Staff will conduct history tours every hour on the hour until
A reel of 1929 film of downtown St. Petersburg will be shown
at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Jazz band Allon Sams and Friends will play from 10 a.m. to
20 local artists will show works, including images of the
The American Stage theater company will perform for children
at 3 p.m.
Saturday's planned events at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort,
501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg:
10 a.m. History tour, concierge desk.
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jazz with Allon Sams and Friends, Vinoy
Grand Ballroom; book signing (52 Great Florida Golf Getaways)
by Ed Schmidt, lobby.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fine art exhibit, Vinoy Grand Ballroom.
Kids' art show, mezzanine. 1990 construction film, mezzanine.
Model room viewing, information desk. Artists at work, various
11 a.m. 1929 film and narration, Vinoy Grand Ballroom foyer;
history tour, concierge desk.
Noon. Mayor's proclamation, artists award presentation, executive
chef's recognition; Vinoy Grand Ballroom.
1 p.m. 1929 film and narration, Vinoy Grand Ballroom foyer;
history tour, concierge desk.
2 p.m. History tour, concierge desk.
2:45 p.m. Door prize winners announced, Vinoy Grand Ballroom
3 p.m. American Stage children's performance, Vinoy Grand