|By Carli Teproff, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
July 16, 2006 - The Bel family sat around a large circular table at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club last week, chatting among themselves and finishing up their breakfast.
The family, which was vacationing from Paris, has been staying at the hotel every summer for 10 years.
"This is our little paradise," said Laurena Bel. "It's intimate."
Though they had a blast as usual this year, they said the resort was a lot quieter than normal. Indeed, they were the only ones in the dining room Monday morning.
The reason: Their paradise would be shutting down later that day for at least five months to get an extreme makeover of sorts, and they were among the last guests.
Alain Bel didn't see a need for changes. "It's hard to believe it could be any better," he said.
They and the other remaining guests had to check out by Monday. Most of the employees were also working their last day at the hotel.
Turnberry Associates, the owners, will feed more than $100
million into the renovations, marking the first time in decades the
hotel will be closed for an extended period.
With more than $100 million in renovations and expansions, The Fairmont Turnberry Isle will feature . . .
"It will be worth waiting for," said Turnberry Associates President Philip Goldfarb. "We will be one of a kind when it's all done."
Most of the hotel's common areas were already empty Monday morning, with only 25 of the 407 rooms occupied. All of the guest rooms will be refurbished.
The hotel, which was built in the 1970s, will be redone, as will the restaurant and golf courses -- a total of about 300 acres.
The two golf courses have both been closed and will be rebuilt with elevations and water features. Most of the ground had already been torn up, and workers on tractors lugged trees to their spots on the course.
The resort's spa and tennis courts, and the beach club located in Sunny Isles Beach, will remain open during the renovations.
Turnberry executives hope that renovations to the resort, sometimes called the "Central Park" of Aventura, will give people even more of a reason to visit.
"We are going from a four-diamond resort to a five-diamond resort," Goldfarb said. "It's all about the details."
More than 400 employees have had to find new jobs because of the renovations, but almost as many were able to stay, said hotel manager Tim Herman. The management company, Fairmont, helped several employees relocate to its other properties, and the hotel held a job fair about six weeks ago to help the employees land local jobs. When the hotel reopens again -- the tentative date is Dec. 15 -- employees will have to reapply for any job openings.
Tshering Wangel, 25, a restaurant manager, was excited about his transfer -- to Hawaii.
"As soon as we found out they helped us find other jobs," said Wangel, who hasn't ruled out the idea of coming back.
The employees all seemed to be in good spirits Monday as the last remaining guests checked out.
Lush landscape still flourished in the common areas, making a canopy over much of the property.
The landscaping employees, as well as security, engineers and several other employees, will stay on during the renovation so the landscaping isn't compromised. All the furnishings were bought by a liquidator and everything will be redone, Goldfarb said.
Work to renovate had already begun with the Magnolia building, the first of four to be renovated. Many of the rooms had already been gutted and the smell of paint thinner lingered in the air.
Piles of rubble lay in heaps in some of the guests rooms.
Mark Isabelle, the general contractor for the project, said the new guest rooms will have include plush carpeting, marble floors, glass mosaics and elaborate water fixtures.
"Everything will be first-class," he said.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald
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