Lexington Hotel plans social debut with blues night

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Owners of the Lexington Hotel on Jacksonville’s Southbank not only are renovating the structure wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor, they also are starting to host social events and talking about working with the neighbors.

They will host “Bourbon, Bacon & Blues” from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. May 26 at the 1515 Prudential Drive hotel and conference center.

“We’re trying to weave ourselves into the community,” said Bernie Moyle, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Coral Springs-based Vantage Hospitality Group.

He and hotel General Manager Art Casey said the event will showcase blues musicians, bourbon tastings, cigar rollers and a bacon-themed menu.

Performances will feature Smokestack with guest appearances by Kim Reteguiz, Landon Spradlin and other artists.

The music and bourbon-tasting will be free, while drink specials, food and cigars will be offered at a nominal price to be determined.

Moyle said Vantage representatives also are working with the Llorens family about partnering in a retail presence or even some hotel rooms in the buildings that line the St. Johns River and Southbank Riverwalk in front of the hotel.

Amkin Management, led by South Florida investor Ramon Llorens, seeks tenants for the vacant riverfront property he bought late last summer along the Riverwalk.

About 15,900 square feet of space is vacant among five of Amkin’s six buildings there.

Vantage Hospitality bought the 35-year-old, 323-room hotel in June for $9 million and is investing at least $20 million more into renovating the five-story property. It sits on almost 6 acres and remains open during remodeling.

Renovations of the first 144 rooms should be completed in June with the remainder by year-end. The pool is being redone and cabanas will be added.

Re-roofing is in progress, and work should start soon in the lobby, restaurant, meeting space and other common areas.

The fifth-floor venue and deck will be a showcase, Moyle said, and available for weddings, cocktail parties and other events.

Owners already have invested in the back-of-the-house functions.

“The biggest thing is getting the ship righted,” said Moyle, a reference to the hotel’s maritime theme.

He said the exterior will have new balconies, windows and paint. The colors will be blue, gray and white. “Fresh, new and clean,” he said.

The restaurant will gain outdoor seating as well as an herb garden for the chef.

Lexington’s main entry will be freshened and the back conference center will be given a porte cochere to provide cover for guests.

The property has weathered some changing and unsteady conditions. Built as a Sheraton in 1981, it also has operated as a Radisson and Wyndham. It was foreclosed and bank-owned when Vantage Hospitality bought it through LexDevCoJax LLC.

Vantage includes Lexington Inns and Hotels among its upper-midscale and upscale brands. It also has several midscale, upper-economy and lower-midscale brands.

Moyle said the property’s 35,000 square feet of conference space includes a 10,000-square-foot ballroom that can seat 1,000 for a plated dinner while also offering 21 break-out rooms.

“We want to build the business back up,” Moyle said. “It’s a conference center and it needs to be filled.”

It employs about 75 full-time and 25 part-time employees, with the majority staying on from prior ownership, Casey said.

The Lexington is the last of the four major full-service Downtown hotels to be renovated.

Nearby on the Southbank, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Jacksonville Riverfront was remodeled under its former name, the Crowne Plaza. On the Northbank, both the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront and the Omni Jacksonville Hotel were refurbished.

Omni General Manager Burnell Goldman said the Lexington’s renovations will help the Downtown hotel market as well as the city’s reputation as a destination for conventions and big events.

“We have another great choice for our guests and visitors,” Goldman said.

He considers the Lexington’s remodeling as “the final chapter of the renovation story of all four full-service hotels in Jacksonville.”

“It will be nothing but good things to come as we look to expand our market,” Goldman said.

Vantage Hospitality intends to own the Prudential Drive property for a long term, Moyle said. The company considered the hotel a great opportunity when it compared the cost of renovating to the price of building a new project.

According to boutique-hospitality.com, the average cost in 2014 to develop a full-service hotel was $193,600 a room.

That puts the replacement cost of a hotel the size of the Lexington at $62.5 million, not counting many other factors, such as a waterfront location.

Moyle said the property has “great bones,” eclectic rooms and personality.

“It’s long-term. It’s a flagship of the Lexington brand,” he said.

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