|By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel, Fort
Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 23, 2012--A 39-room boutique hotel named Aqua is opening in North Beach Village, the latest piece of the re-development of a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood that investors envision as a European-style, pedestrian-friendly town with cafes and galleries.
An investment group has pumped $57 million into the Village project so far, buying more than 25 low-rise buildings and lots -- and renovating some -- in the area between Fort Lauderdale beach and the Intracoastal Waterway behind the Hilton hotel and south of Bonnet House.
Aqua completes the makeover of a 20-room inn -- formerly Angela's Beach Resort -- and an unused building next door along Breakers Avenue one block off the beach. The two properties were joined with a courtyard and re-equipped with such basics as plumbing and electric wiring. They were re-landscaped and overhauled in a sleek, modern style featuring white furniture with aqua accents, said project manager Karen Johnson.
Studios at Aqua start at $129 per night and one-bedroom apartments at $169 per night during summer, all with kitchens, appealing to visitors who seek a lower-cost, more intimate option than hi-rises nearby.
The first part of Aqua opened this spring and the second part starts up in June. The boutique hotel joins two others that North Beach Village Group launched last year -- the 19-room Ocean Gate and the 52-unit Royal Palms, aimed mainly at gay clientele and featuring a spa and restaurant.
The Village Group also has renovated a few apartment buildings and opened its first retail venture: Plaza Bistro, an outdoor cafe on a former vacant lot at 2900 Belmar St., Johnson said.
Many neighbors, hotel analysts and city officials are upbeat on re-development of a run-down area.
"What's happening here can only bring values back up in the neighborhood," said Cindy Galiette, an area resident active with the Central Beach Alliance neighborhood improvement group. She's encouraged by the quality of renovations by the Village Group and welcomes its plans for cafes and other small-scale retail.
Hotel analyst Scott Brush of Miami likes that North Beach Village plans updated lodging at a range of prices and retail spots where tourists and locals can mix. "But the problem is getting the critical mass of hotels to let the travel market know that you are there," said Brush.
Spillover from conventioneers staying at beachfront hotels can help the Village gain recognition. Aqua just hosted some guests attending an ophthalmology meeting, said Johnson.
Fort Lauderdale has changed some zoning rules to help spur the Village upgrades. City codes had banned hotels with less than 50 rooms from offering cafes, spas, restaurants and other "accessory uses," but new rules now allow those offerings at inns with at least 10 rooms.
In addition, small retail ventures -- such as a gourmet market -- now are allowed up to about a block-and-a-half east of the beach without the rigorous city approval process that large retail in the area still faces. "That keeps new retail as a neighborhood amenity and not a Target" big-box store, said Courtney Crush, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer working with the Village group.
The experience of developing Aqua and earlier hotels is helping managers speed the pace of work on other Village projects, said Johnson, as workers fitted Aqua's final rooms with white leather sofa beds, aqua pillows and faux-surfboards painted in-house: "Now, we're getting our groove on."
(c)2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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