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The 1,000 room Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa Seeking
 Approvals to Add 350 rooms; Likely to be a Condo-Hotel

By Todd Wright, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Sep. 7, 2006 - Four years after its grand opening, Hollywood's Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa is looking to expand.

The City Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to rezone property on Hollywood beach to lay the groundwork for the Diplomat to build Diplomat West, a new 350-room hotel that would be loosely connected to the 1,000 room hotel.

The Diplomat West could also be a condo-hotel, which is a hotel in which investors can buy rooms instead of rent them. Management typically rents out the rooms when owners aren't there.

The project would also contain 15,000 square feet of restaurant space.

The two-acre property, at 3250 S. Ocean Dr., was originally zoned for residential developments, but the city and Broward County no longer allow developers to build permanent residential units on Hollywood beach.

The $300 million project is needed so the Diplomat can be more competitive in attracting major corporations and associations for conventions, said Alan Koslow, who is representing the hotel.

CONCERNED RESIDENTS

"Our business is tourism, and we need to be competitive," City Commissioner Beam Furr said. The plan has come under fire from some beach residents who are concerned about increased noise and traffic that would be generated by the hotel. The property is currently vacant but is located close to The Hallmark, a condominium building.

Members of The Hallmark condo association said that they had come to an agreement with Diplomat officials to address the issues of people in the complex. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Many beach residents are afraid more development on the south end of the beach could overcrowd roads and make it more difficult to evacuate during hurricanes, said Cynthia Greene-Eason, president of the Condos of Hollywood Beach, a coalition of condo associations.

"That's the only road we have down there. Ocean Drive. They need to start thinking like that. What are we going to do with all those cars?" she said. "Every time they change the Comprehensive Plan it weakens our position on the beach."

Planning Director Jaye Epstein said the new hotel project would increase traffic slightly, but not nearly as much as a residential development. He said hotels generate about half the traffic of a condo building.

Commissioners were also happy to hear about the $3 million to $4 million in property tax revenues the new project is expected to pump into the city's beach Community Redevelopment Agency annually. 

The Diplomat currently pays more than $6 million in property taxes, one of the largest taxpayers in the city.

Some architectural drawings have the building at about 23 stories with a parking garage underneath.

Diplomat officials said enhancements to the pedestrian bridge that connects Diplomat guests to the current parking garage will also help people get to the Diplomat West.

FINAL PLANS

The city could have a set of final plans early next year, with construction starting later in the year, Koslow said.

The Diplomat is one of the hotel sites for the Super Bowl XLI in February and for the next three years is the host hotel for the FedEx Orange Bowl. The beach Broadwalk will host parties for both popular sporting events, bringing in millions for merchants, local restaurants and other hotels.

"If you want a picture of an economic engine, it is the Diplomat," Epstein said.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald

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