Monday, January 27, 2014

A Gem Loses Its Luster

The Crown Hotel impressed guests from all around but just a few years in, the business struggled to turn a profit.  On July 2, 1986, the St. Petersburg Times reported an outside investor would be buying stock in the business.  

New Investors May Buy Large Block of Crown Hotel Stock 
Citrus Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS - Shares of the Crown Hotel may be sold soon, but that doesn't mean things at the grand old Inverness inn will change much, says Michael Kovach, president of the company that owns the hotel. 
The hotel is currently owned by Epicure Investments, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the British firm Epicure Holdings.  A group of American investors is negotiating to purchase a "large portion" of the stock, but less than half of it, Kovach said. 
Kovach declined to name the prospective buyers or the amount of the purchase.  He would say the investors are not local. 
"It's a little early to tell you," he said. 
Kovach, who was involved with the hotel's massive renovation project, said it is worth more than $3-million. 
The building, more than 100 years old, was turned into a showplace in 1981 after years of decay.  The hotel has not changed hands since the renovation was completed. 
Little of the day-to-day operations at the 34-room hotel and its adjoining gourmet restaurant, pub and antique store will change if the sale goes through, because control will remain in the hands of Epicure Holdings, Kovach said. 
"It would just be an investment for (the party considering the purchase)," Kovach said, "These people are very excited about our territory." 
Kovach, who owns shares in the parent company, said he will probably no longer preside over the local company if the transaction is made.

It was later reported that an unnamed Buffalo, New York investment firm purchased interest in the hotel for $1 million.   

And, while some staff chose to leave the company, major department heads like General Manager Ian Young, Assistant Manager Keitha Stoney and Chef Dennis Malone remained with the property.

Downtown Inverness.  Citrus Times, February 15, 1990.  Photo by Bob Moreland.

This infusion of cash may have helped save the hotel for a while but the Crown Hotel continued to hemorrhage money and just four years later, on March 31, 1990, The St. Petersburg Times would report the Crown Hotel was up for sale.

Crown Hotel Is For Sale, Will Stay Open 
Times Staff Writer 
INVERNESS - The Crown Hotel, promoted by Citrus County business leaders as the elegant symbol of what downtown revitalization can accomplish, is for sale. 
The owners have pledged to keep the turn-of-the-century hotel open until a buyer is found, said Keitha Stoney, assistant manager, "We're still in business," she said.  "Everything is continuing as always." 
According to a prospectus prepared by the hotel's operators, the property at 109 N. Seminole Ave. has been appraised at $1.7-million.  The business, which includes 34 hotel rooms, a restaurant for formal dining and a pub, has been operating at a loss for each of the last three years. 
Last year, the loss totaled $137,000, down from $166,000 in 1988.  The 1987 loss was $96,000. 
The Crown is owned by Epicure Investments, Inc., which, in turn, is owned by Epicure Holdings, a British company. 
Epicure Investment Holdings bought the hotel in 1981 and spent more than $3-million on renovations, transforming the place into a prime attraction for Citrus County. 
The Crown began as a general store in the mid-1890s.  That building was moved several times in the next few years, eventually settling on Seminole Avenue and becoming known as the Colonial Hotel.  Epicure renamed it the Crown Hotel and bedecked it with replicas of the British Crown Jewels. 
One of the primary investors in the hotel recently had a serious heart attack.  In a letter to newspapers, general manager Ian Young said the hotel was on the market because the man's family "would like him to slow down and divest himself of some of his investments." 
Stoney would not identify the man. 
She said a few prospective buyers have looked at the hotel but there have been no serious offers.  "This isn't the kind of property that sells right away.  It could go on forever," she said. 
In recent weeks, business at the hotel has declined.  Stoney and others attribute the drop in guests and restaurant patrons to a persistent rumor that the Crown is going out of business. 
"We hear it every day," Stoney said, "Our customers come in and say it.  Local business people come in and say it.  We try to track down the sources, but it's coming from all parts of the community." 
She said, however, that the Crown is committed to staying open.  "We play a vital part in the economy of Citrus County," she said.  "We bring so many people into this area.  That's our goal."

But selling the hotel didn't take as long as some might have thought.  By June 6, 1990, The St. Petersburg Times was reporting that a sale was just around the corner. 

Historic Crown Hotel May Get New Owner 
Times Staff Writer 
INVERNESS - A prospective buyer is showing interest in the Crown Hotel, the historic inn that has been on the market for three months, a hotel employee said Tuesday. 
Sheila Mohs, the sales and marketing representative, said she has been told that contracts may be exchanged in the next 15 to 20 days.  But she stressed that neither a price nor a closing date has been set. 
"There has at this point been no offer and no acceptance," she said. 
Mohs would not disclose the identity of the prospective buyer and said that other parties have looked at the hotel. 
The 34-room hotel at 109 N. Seminole Ave. has been appraised at $1.7-million, according to a prospectus.  It has lost money for the last three years. 
The hotel is for sale because one of the major investors had a heart attack, and his family wants him to give up some of his investments, General Manager Ian Young has said. 
Epicure Investments, Inc., which owns the hotel, is looking for a buyer who wants to continue operating the hotel and become a part of the local community, Mohs said. 
Epicure is a subsidiary of Epicure Holdings, a British company. 
The Crown Hotel opened nine years ago after $3-million in renovations transformed the building, known previously as the Colonial Hotel and the Orange Hotel, into a British-style inn.

The Crown Hotel in the early 1990s when it was officially offered for sale

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