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New York Hotelier Andre Balazs Prepares to Sell South Beach, Florida's Raleigh Hotel;
Intends to Focus on Expansion of Standard Chain

By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 9, 2009--RALEIGH

Andre Balazs expects to sell his Raleigh Hotel soon, parting with one of the most high-profile boutique properties in South Beach.

The New York hotelier behind The Standard hotel chain said he has a buyer for the 104-room Raleigh and that both sides are all but agreed to a price. He expects the deal to become official within four weeks.

"We've accomplished what we wanted to," Balazs said of his seven years with the Raleigh, 1775 Collins Ave., a favorite stop for celebrities and local hipsters.

Now "we're focusing on The Standard brand-positioning."

Balazs, who owns hotels in New York and Los Angeles, said he typically sells a hotel six or seven years after opening, though the deal comes during a rough stretch for hotels across the country.

"It's the right time to buy a hotel," said Luigi Mercurio, who specializes in hotel sales for EWM, a local real estate brokerage company. "As always, when it's the best time to buy, it's the worst time to sell."

But Balazs said he expects hotel values to drop more as the market worsens, making this a relatively good time to cash out.

"I think it's probably a fortuitous time, based on what's happening in Miami," Balazs said in a telephone interview.

"If you look at what's happening up and down the beach, I think it's going to be rough," he said, citing the glut of unsold condos and condo-hotel units.

Speaking of the pricey boutique hotels like the Raleigh, he noted "that's the end of the market that's really crowded."

Though not as famous as Ian Schrager, who rejuvenated the Delano in the 1990s, Balazs sits on a short list of celebrity hoteliers.

A regular in gossip columns (in part thanks to once dating Uma Thurman), he solidified the Raleigh, built in 1940, as a hot spot on South Beach's circuit of hotels with nightclub scenes poolside.

Balazs said he will use the cash from the Raleigh sale to fund an expansion of The Standard chain -- known for high style at a relatively low rate compared to pricier competitors -- into foreign markets.

"We're moving quite aggressively overseas and in the Caribbean," he said. "This is a very good time for us."

Last year Balazs sold The Standard in Miami Beach to a Spanish company for $34 million after paying $9 million for the site of the old Lido Spa on the Venetian Causeway.

His company now leases back the waterfront property and runs the hotel.

He said he is not pursuing a similar arrangement at the Raleigh, which his company bought for $25 million in 2002.

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Miami Herald

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