One of the first hotels in the St. Petersburg area to open during the pandemic is doing booming business.
The Cambria Hotel St. Petersburg-Madeira Beach Marina, a five-story, 125-room property at 15015 Madeira Way, has been sold out many weekends since it opened in June, said Janis Cannon, senior vice president, upscale brands, Choice Hotels International.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the grand opening until Thursday, it has not slowed business, Cannon said.
“What we’re seeing is that people are willing to drive about 300 miles or less and they are looking for a break from working from home and being home every day,” Cannon told the St. Pete Catalyst.
[See scenes from the grand opening and get a peek at the hotel’s interior in the gallery below.]
The Cambria Hotel is not alone. Hotel occupancy, hit hard by stay-at-home orders earlier this year, now is rebounding, according to Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. For the week of Nov. 22-28, the local area was just 2.7 percent behind 2019 occupancy rates, the tourism agency said, citing data from STR. That’s a strong signal for the economy in Pinellas County, where tourism is the No. 1 employer, responsible for thousands of jobs, as well as billions of dollars in revenue and sales taxes.
Cambria, an upscale brand from Choice Hotels International (NYSE: CHH), has 53 hotels nationwide, including three in Florida. The hotel in Madeira Beach is the first to open in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
“Madeira Beach is special and unique. It’s maintained the Old Florida feel, but it’s an area with a lot of rejuvenation taking place,” Cannon said.
The hotel is in the heart of what is going to be a new downtown area for Madeira Beach, said Mayor John Hendricks.
“This is such as great addition and it’s only the beginning for Madeira Beach. We’ve got a new town center coming, new shops and the city is planning on building a high and dry marina storage facility at the entrance of the city. We’re also planning a restaurant at the marina,” Hendricks said. “This will be a great spot for people who live in St. Pete, Tampa and other places to keep their boats in our high and dry facility and stay in the hotel for the weekend. The marina is walking distance from the hotel and you can walk to the beach.”
The hotel is owned by Madeira Hotel Investors LLC, an investment group headed by veteran hotel developer Kevin Bowden. The group invested about $33 million in the Cambria project, he said.
Bowden, who started his hotel career in Maine, now lives in Lutz and owns several local hotels, including Holiday Inn St. Petersburg West at 1200 34th St. N., the Miramar Resort in St. Pete Beach and the Schooner Hotel in Madeira Beach. He also owns the marina adjacent to the Cambria Hotel.
He said the Cambria Hotel’s opening earlier this year was kept low key.
“We held back on advertising and promotion because we haven’t wanted to get too big of a crowd, but hopefully by next summer the vaccine will be circulated and Covid-19 will be behind us,” Bowden said.
Still, economic uncertainty makes hotel investing tough right now.
“I think it will be a real challenge for a while. I think financing will be difficult, even for someone like me who’s done it for so long. It’s hard to plan what you could possibly do in revenue. It’s so unusual, with everyone saying, don’t travel. We’ve never had that happen. There were events, like the savings and loan crisis, or 9/11, or the 2008 economic crash, but this is totally different than anything I’ve experienced in my 40 years of operating hotels,” Bowden said.
Still, hotels in the southeast United States have fared better than those in other parts of the country, said Cannon.
“The highly populated urban areas such as New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, have had really tight restrictions due to high population and high density,” Cannon said. “But it’s been good in the Southeast, even during the pandemic. It’s an area that hasn’t been hit as hard as other parts of the country have.”
During the grand opening ceremony, the hotel presented a $1,000 check to Gulf Beaches Rotary, an organization of business and civic leaders from Madeira Beach and Treasure Island.
The Cambria Hotel St. Petersburg-Madeira Beach Marina employs about 100 people, said Steve Lambert, general manager. Centennial Bank financed the project and it was built by Lema Construction.