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French Real Estate Developer, Claude Dray, Acquires Miami South Beach's
 151 room National Hotel; No Plans to Go Condo
By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Feb. 1, 207 - A French real estate investor has purchased South Beach's National Hotel for an undisclosed sum, offering a glimpse of the lodging sector's increasing popularity at the expense of condominium projects.

Claude Dray, the French developer who is a partner in the massive Plaza at Brickell condominium complex being built by the Related Group in Miami, closed the deal on the 151-room Art Deco building on Wednesday. Dray and his wife, Simone, are Art Deco aficionados and recently sold a $75 million collection of Art Deco pieces in a Paris auction.

A top National executive said Dray has no plans to convert any of the oceanfront building into condominiums -- a strategy that would have been practically unheard of in recent years as developers sold off hotel rooms to investors amid a condo-hotel market.

"Right now, hotels are hot," said Pam Rodriguez, a hotel broker in the newly formed lodging division of the Colliers Abood Wood-Fay commercial real estate firm in Miami, which was not involved in the deal. "And condos aren't."

The stylish hotel on Collins Avenue, with a 200-foot-long pool billed as the longest in Florida, had made up half the lodging portfolio of owner Hans Krause. His family also owns the larger but less expensive Palms hotel on 30th Street and Collins Avenue, and Krause said they worried about being so invested in the lodging sector.

"I've seen a lot since I've been here. I've seen killings of Germans, I've seen Andrew, I've seen 9/11," Krause said, recalling the tourist murders, hurricane and terrorist attacks that battered the area's vacation industry during the past three decades. "I know something will happen again."

Krause bought the National in 1996 for $9 million and spent $5 million renovating it. He said Dray plans on combining some rooms into suites and improving the hotel's public areas in an effort to boost rates beyond 2006's average of $250 a night -- well below the $474 reported in 2005 by its nearby competitor and market leader, the Delano.

The National's general manager, Jeff Lehman, said the new National will compete for South Beach's most deep-pocketed travelers -- invoking a new hotel famous for charging $1,000 a night. "We're going to give the Setai a run for their money," said Lehman, who will continue working with the new owner.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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