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Hotel developer Mitesh Patel has big dreams for helping the ongoing revitalization of downtown Pensacola, and they start with two new hotels at the vacant lot where 9th Avenue and Salamanca Street converge at the eastern entrance to downtown.

The Pensacola hotelier confirmed reports that he is developing two new upscale hotels downtown and said he sees a promising opportunity to revive a property that has sat vacant for years. By 2018, Patel says visitors will see two new hotels open, with Starwood Hotels set to bring their Aloft and Element by Westin imprints to the city.

“Getting this location was a solid choice being downtown and near Pensacola Bay,” said Patel, who has developed several other hotels in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. “We’ve known there’s a been a huge positive change downtown and we made a conscious decision to invest in the momentum and see a new brand in downtown Pensacola.”

The now vacant property along 9th Avenue and Colfax Street was purchased in 2016 for $3 million. The site will soon be home to two new hotels downtown. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

Project plans obtained by The Pulse show the developer wants to build a multi-story hotel complex on the nearly five-acre site at 8 North 9th Avenue, adjacent to Gulf Power’s corporate headquarters and near the Pensacola Bay Center. The two hotels would be part of a single structure, with shared parking and amenities.

The long-vacant parcels were purchased for $3 million last year by Patel’s Sai Laxmi Pensacola, LLC. Both parcels were previously owned by the Moulton family since 2006, but were foreclosed in 2015.

Patel said he envisioned bringing a new hotel brand to downtown Pensacola with Starwood Hotels. However, in late 2016, Marriott International acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in a deal that made Marriott the world’s largest hotel company.

“Starwood appealed to us because they weren’t currently in Pensacola,” Patel said. “With the merger, Marriott is now the biggest and strongest brand in the world. When we got news the merger was finalized,  they notified us to let us know we’d still be working with the Starwood brand and team.”

Patel said he is currently in the planning phase of building the hotels and is currently vetting architects and contractors for the project, which he expects to wrap up by the end of the month.

“Starwood is very particular on design,” said Patel. “We are looking to finalize the design soon with both hotels being under the same roof in a dual brand concept like you will see soon in downtown Savanah’s historic district as well. The hotels will have their own lobbies and will most likely be around five stories with surface parking in the rear.”

When searching for a new location to build his new hotels, Patel said he was guided to focus on two areas in the region.

“In actuality, they [Starwood] told us we would need to be either in downtown Pensacola or on Pensacola Beach,” said Patel. “Starwood gets a lot of data on the market demographics and with the upper-level hotel brands, they said we needed to be downtown or Pensacola Beach.”

The Aloft Hotel in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. (Starwood/Special to The Pulse)

The Aloft brand is targeted at “the next generation of travelers,” featuring what company officials call “urban, modern design and a hip social experience.” Often located in city centers, near airports, or in other high-visibility areas, Aloft’s economical design and minimal staffing level have proven popular with developers and hoteliers, with 114 hotels now open worldwide and another 150 in the pipeline. The nearest Aloft hotels to Pensacola are located in Tallahassee and New Orleans.

The Element by Westin brand is Starwood’s first collection of hotels designed to be environmentally friendly. According to the company, Element hotels are built eco-friendly from the ground up, including floors made of recycled materials as well as energy-efficient lighting and plumbing fixtures. With 22 current locations, Element has another 65 hotels planned. The Pensacola hotel will be the first Element on the Gulf Coast, with the nearest location in Houston.

“Our clientele will be made up of mostly millennials and modern travelers,” Patel added. “We really think that market is getting stronger in Pensacola.”

Patel said he expects to have designs finalized and approved by the city this spring, with construction taking  18-20 months.

“We’d like to stick to the 2018 goal. but being that its downtown in a historic district, there might be some delays in approval,” said Patel. “I think that’s a realistic goal.”

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