Kanti Patel: Playing monopoly with real hotels

St. Augustine’s hotel business is good, and the man former Mayor George Gardner describes as “the city’s most successful hotelier” apparently believes that it can get better.

This year, Kanti Patel has added the former Exchange Bank building to his holdings.  The 10-story Cathedral Place landmark that can never be eclipsed in height was purchased in January for $10 million dollars under the “Kasam Hospitality” identity. 

Most recently, though, in September 2018, under “Vista Hotel VIII”, Patel purchased another “skyscraper” of sorts, the “Historic Solla-Carcaba Building” located at 88 Riberia Street.  He paid a cool $2.25 million dollars.

The Solla-Carcaba building went up in 1910 and is the last standing cigar factory in St Augustine; a reminder of an industry that was prosperous at the end of the 19th century.  The laborers worked at tables under the extra-high ceilings atop the fourth floor, where the windows were flung open wide and the unobstructed ocean breeze provided what would pass for “St Johns County air conditioning”.

Many Cuban immigrants settled in Ybor City (Tampa) bringing their tobacco seeds and know-how with them.  Several families continued to St Augustine where they set out to recapture the industry that had sustained them for generations back home.

An appliance store stood where today the wide concrete staircase faces Riberia Street.  When the store closed, local architect Howard Davis purchased the building and began a restoration project in the early 1980’s, but it would not be completed before his death.  Heavily in debt, and with Howard’s energy no longer around to shepherd the project through, Edward and Harriet Mussallem bought the mortgage from First Union National Bank.  In 2007 they brought in their daughter Marsha and her husband Jim Byles and, together with a partner, they converted the building into office and professional space.

Before St Augustine was deluged with brackish, unsanitary water that accompanied our first hurricane, Historic City News was a tenant and published from the lower lobby level of the Solla-Carcaba Building.  At the parking and street level, the entire building was flooded, and we lost everything.

Patel’s vision is that the hundred-year-old building will become a 50-room hotel. The former bank building on Cathedral Place is largely under lease.  So far, at least publicly, Patel has not announced firm plans for its future — at least a part of which is rumored to become high-end hotel rooms.

Not that the reputed large-scale developer hasn’t enough to keep him busy, besides Solla-Carcaba and Cathedral Place, Patel’s real estate holdings also include the former St Augustine-St Johns County Chamber of Commerce building at 1 Riberia Street.

He purchased the property near the time he negotiated most of the homes along West Castillo Drive.  He is in the process of building a Renaissance Hotel; a lofty recreation of the one-time San Marco Hotel that stood on the site. The Chamber purchase in 2015 was for $750,000 and made under the name “Avak Hotels Group Two Inc”.  Patel, amid quarrelsome objections from a considerable number of residents, convinced the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board to re-zone the property from HP-5 to Planned Unit Development.

Patel has also been working on, but so far denied, plans for a Hilton Garden Inn on the former Bozard Ford site that runs between San Marco Avenue and North Ponce de Leon Boulevard in North City.  But not all of Patel’s hotel properties are still under construction.  His “Jalaram Hotels” include the Hilton Historic Bayfront, Holiday Inn St Augustine, Hampton Inn Historic, Best Western Bayfront Inn, Best Western Historical Inn, and Best Western St. Augustine Beach.

Now, if he starts looking into railroads …. .radius+serie