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Chris Blackwell Sells The Marlin, Ending His Run as
 One of South Beach's Highest-profile Hotel Owners
By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

July 9, 2004 - Island Records founder Chris Blackwell has sold The Marlin, formally ending his run as one of South Beach's highest-profile hotel owners.

The Palm Resorts Group, a venture that includes New York nightclub operator Tim Spuches, said Thursday that it had bought the 12-room boutique hotel at 1200 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach. Spuches said the group paid $7.5 million, but it was unclear if that reflected the full value of the deal.

A Blackwell representative declined to discuss the details.

Blackwell's star power -- the producer is credited with having signed Bob Marley and U2 -- meshed well with South Beach's rise from a decaying retirement village to a fashionable destination in the 1980s. One of the first investors to buy aging Art Deco buildings, he eventually came to own 10 of them.

Six were hotels, including The Tides, a 45-room property on Ocean Drive where the best suite rents for $3,000 a night. Blackwell made the New York gossip columns last year with the announcement that he was liquidating most of his South Beach roster.

At the time, he said he couldn't part with The Marlin, his first hotel and the one that housed a recording studio and his private, 1,500-square-foot apartment.

"It's an emotional connection," he told The Herald in May 2003.

On Thursday, his publicist, Jody Diamond, said of The Marlin, "That was really his baby."

Cathy Snipper, a Blackwell aide, said Blackwell wanted to focus more on his resorts in the Bahamas and Jamaica, including Goldeneye, the exclusive Jamaican hideaway where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels.

Spuches said The Marlin had lost money each year since 2000 despite steady bookings and a popular club. The problem, he said, was the lack of a full-fledged restaurant and the retention of too many employees.

"The place was carrying a huge payroll," Spuches said. "Really, a lot of it was sentimental things. Chris really took care of people. He had this Jamaican chef he'd had for years who was getting a huge salary for doing absolutely nothing."

Snipper also suggested that Blackwell had fallen a bit out of love with contemporary South Beach.

"The timing was right," she said. "With the change on South Beach, for him the edge is gone. It's not seedy anymore, not as much character. Starbucks came in."

Blackwell owns a floor in an Ocean Drive building, and his Island Outpost resort group will continue to keep an office there, Snipper said.

Spuches, 36, joined with two 34-year-olds, his brother Chris, a New York lawyer, and Evan Pravda, whom Spuches described as a high-end fashion retailer and former New York hotel executive, to buy The Marlin. The deal closed in March.

Spuches said they plan a $1.5 million "long-overdue face-lift" of the 1939 building, mostly to reposition the bar and bring in an upscale restaurant. The renovations are scheduled to end in October, but the hotel and bar will continue to operate.

He added that there are plans to move away from The Marlin's hip-hop image and closer to that of a rock club, with frequent live acts. He said he wants receipts from the restaurant and bar to account for as much as 70 percent of revenue. The Marlin's average room rents for about $200 a night in winter, he noted.

The Tides earned the most attention in Blackwell's portfolio, but The Marlin proved a celebrity magnet, with Aerosmith, Beyonce, Robert Palmer and U2 having recorded in its studio, according to Palm Resorts.

A separate group of investors have purchased the recording studio, but Spuches declined to identify them, except to say they represented a start-up label yet to establish itself. Elite Modeling, which owns space in The Marlin, plans to remain there, too.

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