Lifestyle - July 17, 2017

Second luxury hotel planned for historic Sanford building

As John Revelle walked in downtown Sanford with his wife during a recent street festival, a light bulb went off in his mind.

“I thought: Is there any place to spend the night?” the Maitland resident said. “We started asking around, and we were shocked that there was hardly any hotels. And I thought it was crazy.”

That’s when he came up with the idea to buy the historic six-story bank building at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and East First Street — long known as Sanford’s first skyscraper — and turn it into a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar and rooms styled with an old Florida décor.

Revelle is the second hotel developer in recent months with plans to convert an old downtown building into luxury lodging. It’s more good news for Sanford officials, who have long made efforts to lure shops, restaurants and even microbreweries to the city’s historic downtown, known for its brick buildings and old Florida homes on tree-lined streets.

“We’ve waited for something like this for a long time,” Mayor Jeff Triplett said of plans for the two hotels. “And we’re looking forward to working with them. We’ll support them the entire way.”

In May, Sanford-based Key Performance Hospitality Management announced plans to purchase the shuttered old Mayfair Hotel on East First Street on the shore of Lake Monroe and turn the 1925 historic building into a high-end hotel. Company officials said they hope to attract business travelers, tourists looking for a lakeside resort and groups planning to hold large events.

As a hotel in the 1930s, the Mayfair provided wealthy and famous Northerners, including mobster Al Capone and actress Tallulah Bankhead, a place to spend the night. But the 75,000-square-foot building has sat empty since February after staff for New Tribes Mission — now known as Ethnos 360 — moved out of the vintage building.

Officials with Key Performance Hospitality Management estimate the building will need several million dollars of interior renovations, including gutting most of the rooms, installing central heat and air conditioning, adding a new pool, putting in new elevators and beautifying the landscape.

Down the street is the 1922 historic building Revelle’s company, the Sanford Hotel Group, plans to purchase and renovate into a 40-room hotel. It was built by the same construction company that erected the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the landmark Flatiron Building in New York City.

At the time, it was Sanford’s tallest building. One of its first tenants was First National Bank of Sanford, which moved from its old spot across Park Avenue in 1923. However, First National closed its operation permanently in July 1929, just three months before the stock market crash.

Today, the building’s bottom floor is occupied by Wells Fargo while the upper five floors have been vacant for years.

Revelle, 36, also plans to purchase an adjacent parking lot on the south end of the property and build a multi-story building with additional hotel rooms, retail shops and a parking garage.

But are the projects a good fit?

Kevin Murphy, chair of the hospitality services department at the Rosen College of Hospitality Services at the University of Central Florida, said luxury hotels in downtown Sanford could be successful.

“Hotels are real-estate investments, so it’s all about location, location, location,” he said. “And Sanford is a historic town. It’s on the St. Johns [River] with ferry boats. It has restaurants. It has brew pubs. And it’s developing itself as a destination. So there may be people that may want to do a short quiet weekend getaway in Sanford. … Not everyone wants to go rub elbows with 20,000 other tourists at Disney and the attractions.”

However, Scott Smith, an assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and tourism at the University of South Carolina who lives in Sanford, isn’t so sure.

“I love Sanford. It’s my home community,” he said. “But I honestly do not see enough business [in downtown Sanford] to sustain one hotel or two hotels. You look at downtown Sanford and you ask: What is the draw? What is going to encourage people to spend the night? I can’t answer that. As much as I love Sanford’s waterfront, it’s not enough of a draw for a 4- or 5-diamond hotel.”

A recent feasibility study performed by a consulting firm hired by Revelle’s company showed that there is enough market demand in downtown Sanford to accommodate up to an additional 100 hotel rooms, he said.

Revelle, a real-estate investor and mortgage broker, is making his first venture into developing a new hotel. He pointed out that his business partners have several years of experience.

Sitting on a bench outside the old bank building, Coreen Adams said she thinks a hotel would fit in nicely there.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said Adams, who has lived in Sanford for seven years. “I think a hotel would be popular here. At night, the sidewalks here are filled with people going to the restaurants or the bars.” or 407-420-5718

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