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Ceebraid-Signal, Developer of Omphoy Ocean Resort, formerly the Palm Beach Hilton,
Defies Tight Spending Trend Investing $724,000 for each of the 134 Rooms Inn & Spa

By Jeff Ostrowski, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 13, 2009--The Omphoy Ocean Resort is the site of a rare sight during the depths of this Great Recession: dozens of construction workers busily finishing a major project.

The sleek new hotel, formerly the Palm Beach Hilton, is scheduled to open next month. And the resort aims to hire 150 workers.

The 134-room inn and spa is owned by West Palm Beach-based Ceebraid-Signal, an often-controversial developer that's spending big money on this property even as consumer spending declines.

Ceebraid-Signal bought the hotel for $42 million at the peak of the market in 2005. The company is ponying up another $55 million to gut and renovate the building, said Omphoy General Manager Deborah Carr.

Add it up, and Ceebraid Signal is investing a whopping $724,000 per room in the Omphoy Ocean Resort.

That's about twice as much as hotel expert Guy Trusty, president of Lodging & Hospitality Realty in Coral Gables, recommends spending to develop a luxury hotel. As a result, he said, the Omphoy's financial future is "questionable," even at room rates of $450 to $550 a night at the peak of the tourist season.

"What they're aiming for is what the market will bear," Trusty said of the Omphoy's room rates. "But I'm not too sure that will provide much return."

Not every Ceebraid-Signal project has enjoyed success. In one ill-fated venture, Ceebraid-Signal started the Eden Place condo in Boca Raton but failed to complete it, spurring lawsuits from buyers and threats from city officials. In another entanglement, a Ceebraid-Signal division that owns a property in the Keys filed for bankruptcy in 2006.

But the Omphoy, at 2842 S. Ocean Blvd., promises something new: a less traditional ambience than visitors will find at The Breakers, the Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton. Carr calls it a "Zen-like, meditative mood" that will appeal to younger guests.

Prominent Chef Michelle Bernstein is in charge of the food, and the lobby bar will boast a 100-inch flat screen TV and a billiards table.

This summer, the Omphoy will offer rooms for the special rate of $149 a night, Carr said.

Ceebraid-Signal also owns the Brazilian Court in Palm Beach and the now-closed Gulfstream Hotel in Lake Worth. Carr said renovations of the Gulfstream are scheduled to begin next year.

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To see more of The Palm Beach Post -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.palmbeachpost.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

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