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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 4 years ago

An $11 million historic hotel makeover delivers a dose of Zen

Several obstacles didn't derail the renovations of the Fenway Hotel.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Turning a Jazz Age building in Pinellas County into a polished hotel and facility for a global organization that supports practitioners of tai chi has been a four-year pressure-point project for Sean Dennison.

Courtesy. Work on renovating the Fenway Hotel in Dunedin has cost more than $10 million.

There were termites, for starters — almost three times more than originally thought. A tree trunk caused the foundation of the building to sink a few inches. There were unexpected visitors, from bees to owls. And a few other issues cropped up for the building, the historic Fenway Hotel in Dunedin, which dates back to the 1920s and was home to the county’s first radio station in 1925.

Good thing Dennison is a veteran of Taoist tai chi, to help fight off any project anxiety. It’s a meditation practice that involves deep stretching with a full range of motion and continuous turning of the spine. Taoist tai chi backers say in addition the benefits to the body, it has a calming effect on the mind.

The other thing of late to calm Dennison, executive director of the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA, is significant progress on the organization’s ambitious Fenway project.

'We are exceedingly excited about this opportunity. It’s a big deal for us.’ Sean Dennison, Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA

In a partnership with Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging and Development, the society has renovated and restored the Fenway into an 83-room boutique hotel, with a focus on health and wellness packages. The hotel will be under the Marriott International Autograph Collection, and includes a pool, restaurant and rooftop bar with views of Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands. The hotel opened earlier in October.

There’s more. The project includes the 14,000-square-foot Taoist Tai Chi International Center & Practice Hall, an American centerpiece for the nonprofit, based outside Toronto. “We are exceedingly excited about this opportunity,” says Dennison. “It’s a big deal for us.”

The Taoist Tai Chi Society’s interest in the Fenway project dates back to summer 2014, when it bought the 79,380-square-foot hotel in a deed in lieu of foreclosure for $2.8 million. Dennison says the society, seeing the depth of the work required to redo the hotel, reached out to Mainsail for help. Mainsail will manage hotel. “Their success with their Epicurean hotel near Bern’s (Steak House in Tampa) came highly recommended to us,” says Dennison.

Including the nearly $3 million for the land, the two entities have spent some $11 million on Fenway project. Like Dennison, Mainsail President Joe Collier recounts multiple construction challenges — including turning the building to essentially a shell, held by steel beams, to ready the rooftop bar. “Anytime you are talking about a 100-year-old building you will have unique things and limitations,” says Collier.

Mainsail was attracted to the project — it was connected to the society by a property appraiser, a mutual friend —  partially because of the unique location, near downtown Dunedin and the water. Collier adds Mainsail’s success with Autograph was another pull. Says Collier: “It’s a perfect setup for the boutique hotels we like to do.”

Beyond the hotel, Dennison and his colleagues say the conference center is one of the biggest steps in the history of the Taoist Tai Chi Society, founded in 1970. The nearest comparable international conference center is in Canada. And for an organization that spans 26 countries and has some 42,000 members, Florida is a key draw.

 “Our needs have been growing,” says Dennison. “And who would want to be in Toronto where it’s 20 below when you could be in sunny Florida where it’s 80 degrees.”

Likewise, what’s good for the society, says Dennison, will be good for Dunedin and Pinellas County. Says Dennison: “This is something that’s going to be unique to the area.”



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