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Despite Setback in Redevelopment Plans, the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne
 Will Lay Off  Entire Staff of 385 When the Resort Shuts Aug. 31, 2006

By Niala Boodhoo, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 22, 2006 - Despite a recent setback in redevelopment plans, the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne still plans to close its doors as scheduled this fall, the company said Wednesday after informing state officials of plans to lay off its entire staff of 385 people when the resort shuts Aug. 31.

Following opposition from Key Biscayne residents and planners, Sonesta International Hotels and Fortune International Realty last month withdrew redevelopment plans that would have included building six towers along its beachfront property.

It said then it was considering a shorter, U-shaped structure.

Felix Madera, president of Sonesta Florida and Caribbean Resorts, said Wednesday the company decided to go ahead with the plans to close Aug. 31 so they could prepare for "when we will be allowed to start developing."

"It comes to a point where a decision had to be made, rather than dragging it out," Madera said.

He also added that many of the resort's employees had made other plans or wanted to retire.

"It's very difficult with the lives of these people, they are just hanging, knowing they are going to be let go at some point."

Madera estimated the Sonesta's severance packages will cost about $2 million. Full-time workers who stay until the end will receive at least three weeks' salary, any accrued vacation time or other benefits, as well as an additional week of salary for each year of service.

Part-time workers will also receive similar benefits, Madera said.

"We feel it's fair and reasonable what we have planned," he said.

Sonesta said last year it would partner with Fortune International Realty to transform the 37-year-old resort into an upscale, "ultra luxury" condo-hotel.

The $300 million redevelopment should be complete in about three and a half years, Madera said.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald

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