These Warriners want to see Port St. Joe revitalized
David and Trish Warriner are Port St. Joe royalty. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know them or appreciate what they’ve done to help revitalize the tourism industry in this small coastal town. In June 2001, the Warriners took their savings, and money they didn’t have, to revitalize the Port Inn, a hotel that became popular around the turn of the century — the 20th Century, that is.
Saving History The past comes alive to revitalize the future By Lee Gordon Originally published in the Feb/Mar 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine
David and Trish Warriner are Port St. Joe royalty. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know them or appreciate what they’ve done to help revitalize the tourism industry in this small coastal town.
In June 2001, the Warriners took their savings, and money they didn’t have, to revitalize the Port Inn, a hotel that became popular around the turn of the century — the 20th Century, that is.
“Many of my financial advisors and friends quietly thought we were crazy, but we get the last laugh,” said David Warriner. “Mission accomplished.”
Their mission was to do something that no one else wanted to spearhead. The Warriners were going to begin the long-awaited refurbishment of downtown Port St. Joe while reclaiming and emphasizing the history of the original Port Inn.
“We closed on the property in June of 2001, three months prior to 9/11,” recalled David Warriner. “The property had been the Saint Joe Motel for the last 55 years and had over the years fallen into disrepair. Trish and I had recently finished a redevelopment of some commercial property that was in her family for years, including the old post office. She had always had her eye on the motel due to its location and its dire need for redevelopment.”
Being a native of Port St. Joe, Trish Warriner had an affinity for the building and what it stood for. Once she and David became involved in property management, she couldn’t help but wonder what it would take to acquire a landmark so rich in history.
“When it (Port Inn) came available, we competed against a developer who wanted to raze the building and build condos in its place,” she said. “The current owners wanted something better for the property and entrusted us to do it. The Port Inn was the result of lots of consultation with experts, money and faith. We wanted to make the corner of Highways 98 and 71 the center of commercial activity in downtown Port St. Joe while reclaiming and emphasizing the history of the original Port Inn, which was located on the same site over 100 years ago.”
Port St. Joe Royalty
David Warriner is 45 years old and calls Panama City home. Trish Warriner says she is “a little younger,” and is a native of Port St. Joe. The two moved to PSJ in 1995 after her mother passed away. Their courtship was quick but their marriage has been long and solid ever since.
“Trish and I were introduced to each other by her best friend on a blind date in 1988,” said David Warriner. “I met her friend at an American Cancer Society volunteer meeting and within the first 10 minutes she said ‘I know someone you just have to meet.’ We were engaged to be married within three months: happily married after 21 years!”
The couple worked together and quietly managed investments and real estate assets along the Forgotten Coast. They also managed the legacy of the Tapper Foundation, which was created by Trish’s father.
“I am the president of Tapper and Company. This was a company that grew out of my father-in-law’s past ownership of the ship stevedoring business that loaded and unloaded ships at our port,” David Warriner explained. “It currently is a management company charged with the management and development of our real estate holdings.”
Trish Warriner was a major player in the success of the downtown area. She chaired the Downtown Redevelopment Agency and was the first to insist the TIF (tax increment financing) funds be collected and spent on true redevelopment.
The original Port Inn was built in 1909 and owned by the St. Joseph Land and Development Corporation. The Inn had a broad, open-air veranda and was known as the center of social life in the small developing town. The Inn did very well for the next three decades, but on Oct. 17, 1944, during World War II, a fire took down the entire establishment. In its wake, only smoldering ruins would remain: a loss of approximately $35,000.
The property sat vacant for three years until a group from St. Augustine and Panama City reconstructed a “new” motel to the tune of $45,000. On Jan. 5, 1948, the Port Inn was back open. Again, times were good, but as the years went by, the motel fell into disrepair. It was rumored developers were looking to buy the site, demolish the Inn, and build townhomes and condos. That’s when the Warriners came to the rescue.
“We did not know much of the great history of the Port Inn when we bought it but after learning it, we were enthralled and wanted to recapture that history and feel for our town,” said David Warriner.
The town’s transition from an industrial (paper mill) to a tourist economy was jump-started with the purchase and subsequent refurbishing of the Port Inn because the Warriners envisioned the need for transient tourism and business accommodations in Port St. Joe.
“We have fared pretty well,” said Trish Warriner. “We have invested money, time and energy in those things that sustain us through the bad times and diversify our market. That being said, we are cautiously optimistic about the future.”
The Warriners have had to economically survive two of the most devastating events in the history of the nation, and the region. The Port Inn was officially purchased by the couple’s Tapper and Company just three months before 9/11, after which tourism across the country went into a tailspin. And, just recently, like everyone else on the Forgotten Coast, they had to deal with a decline in revenue in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.
“This was the worst economy in the recent history of tourism and hospitality,” said David Warriner. “During this most recent challenge created by the oil spill, we spent our time trying to figure out how to make lemonade out of lemons instead of crying over spilled oil. We have been fortunate that our efforts and vision has weathered some pretty tough economic times well.”
Hospitality is an ever-changing industry, which has forced the Warriners to adjust with the times. A decade after their initial investment, they are enjoying the ride and hoping things turn around so they can prove to everyone, including their financial advisor, that they made a sound and profitable decision to refurbish the Port Inn.
“When you are challenged with providing a unique experience for guests with all kinds of expectations, it’s tough,” said David Warriner. “We like to always exceed their expectations, but it’s difficult when they vary so much from guest to guest. Also, in a 24/7 business, challenges and opportunities never stop. Great management and teamwork is a must. We are blessed to have great staff.”