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Pandemic raises concerns over St. Augustine's hotel boom

With many hotel projects started before the pandemic, some in the industry are concerned that hotels may not be able to sustain themselves.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — An apparent hotel building boom is happening in St. Augustine.

The Renaissance Hotel may be the most unique hotel under construction right now. It is designed to resemble The San Marco Hotel from the late-1800's.

Railroad tycoon Henry Flagler even stayed in the San Marco Hotel before building his own hotels in St. Augustine.

"The San Marco sat pretty much on this spot," Jalaram Hotel Director of Development Troy Blevins said as he walked the site of the new hotel.

The hotel is located just just across the street from the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.

"It's one hotel but it looks like seven different buildings," Blevins said.

The Renaissance is one of five hotels in or near downtown St. Augustine going up. Add to that, two more being built in Vilano Beach. 

"Most of the hotels being built right here, those have been in the making for two and three years," Blevins said.

It took 15 years for the Renaissance to get to its present status beginning with planning. However, as construction began, the COVID-19 pandemic also started.

The pandemic brought up the question of demand.

"We’re going to have to wait and see because these projects at the time when they were being developed and the money was set in place, St. Augustine was in a growing stage," Blevins noted.

Jalaram Hotels is building this and another hotel in St. Augustine on U.S. 1 now, but the company has actually put a third hotel on hold to see what the market does.

"We probably lost 24% last year in the hotel industry here, just in this area," Blevins said. "And we weren’t hit as bad as a lot of other areas."

For hotel companies that already received the financial okay to build before the pandemic started, Blevins said it does not make sense for them to stop the projects during the pandemic.

"It’s hard to stop the projects, yes," Jalaram Hotels Director of Operations and Revenue Sid Dua said. "You just keep going, finish the deadline, open the hotels, and start paying the bills."

Dua said the demand for hotel rooms in St. Augustine will bounce back, but it may take another two to three years.

"It's going to be too many rooms for the weekdays, especially from Sunday through Thursday with not that many people coming in the market," Due explained.

Meanwhile, a hotel that aims to resemble one of the Old City’s first grand hotels continues to take shape.

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