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Investor Sam Nazarian Contracts with Philippe Starck
 to Design Miami's Ritz Plaza Hotel
By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 10, 2004 - Celebrity designer Philippe Starck's surreal interiors still define the Delano, South Beach's most famous hotel. Nearly a decade later, Starck is returning to South Beach to design another hotel -- across the street from his original creation.

The new owners of the Ritz Plaza hotel have signed Starck as their designer, his first South Florida hotel commission since the Delano, whose 1995 opening launched the minimalist aesthetic that remains the South Beach standard.

Ritz Plaza's owners say Starck plans an updated version of his take on the style South Beach needs -- one that's warmer than the Delano's famed white-on-white look.

"I don't think we're going to go for -- to use the pun -- as 'stark' a design," said Paul Makarechian, one of the developers. "It will have a little bit more of a connection with old Europe. It won't be as modern, I guess is a way of saying it."

During a brief interview last week, Starck sniffed at the notion of comparing his new project to the Delano. But with the two oceanfront properties standing 20 paces apart at 17th Street and Collins Avenue, competition seems inevitable.

And the new owners are seeking the same kind of hip star power that fuels the Delano. Their main investor, Sam Nazarian, is a 29-year nightclub owner and movie producer from Los Angeles who recently paid $12.5 million for Jennifer Lopez's Beverly Hills mansion.

And he seems willing to take on Ian Schrager, the iconic hotelier who hired Starck for the Delano and a number of his other hotels.

"You look at the Delano -- it was built 10 years ago and a penny hasn't been spent since," Nazarian said. Turning to another Ian Schrager hotel not designed by Starck, Nazarian added: "The Shore Club -- I'll let you be the judge of what that is."

Schrager did not respond to an e-mail asking for comment on Starck's latest venture, and a publicist also declined to reply to an interview request this week.

Starck, a 55-year-old French designer, has only been linked with one South Florida project since the Delano -- the Related Group's new South Beach condominium tower, Icon.

In between, he has emerged as one of the country's most famous designers, largely for the line of household goods he created for Target.

Schrager made Starck sign a noncompete contract that would have barred the designer from working in South Beach, but that agreement expired in recent years, according to Nazarian, who said he has hired Starck to design seven L.A. restaurants for him.

At the Delano, Starck created a mix of whimsy (a giant purple settee couch sits on the far wall of the hotel's lobby) and sterility (the rooms have white walls, white floors, white beds, white chairs and white TVs).

Its 1995 opening drew a six-page spread in Vanity Fair and prompted Herald writers to describe the hotel's look as both "urgent chic" and "chromatic cold turkey."

At Icon's debut party Friday, Starck told The Herald that the Ritz Plaza will not resemble what he created at the Delano.

"It will be completely different. Because it's 20 years later," he said, inadvertently aging the Delano by a decade.

The new owners of the 1940 hotel have filed preliminary drawings with Miami Beach's Historic Preservation Board, and some bear the stamp of Starck's design firm. But they seem to offer only fleeting hints of what he might have in mind for his South Beach sequel.

A pool deck features a three-story mirror towering over a teak deck, the patios draped in ivy. The lobby would have fireplaces and wood paneling and metal railings. A marble-topped table accents one room's entry way.

But the drawings do not say whether these were Starck creations or just placeholders until he puts his stamp on the plans. The developers are coy about describing too much.

"We want to surprise everybody," Nazarian said, before returning to the development group's refrain. "It's going to be a complete night-and-day difference with what he did with the Delano."

The owners bought the 132-room 1940 hotel this summer from Ignacio Contreras and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Starwood hoped to build a W hotel there but was blocked by the Delano, which sued over the shadow the hotel's seven-story tower would cast.

Makarechian's group plans a five-story "residence club" between the existing hotel building and the ocean, with 23 time-share units selling in three-month intervals.

No prices have been announced, but the resort -- to be run by boutique-operator Kimpton Hotels, the new operator of Coconut Grove's Mayfair hotel -- would open in early 2006 after extensive renovations.

It has been closed since the new owners bought it; Nazarian said the price was close to $30 million, with development costs expected to run about $70 million.

Makarechian's development company, the Newport Beach, Calif.-based Makar Properties, also owns the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in California. Nazarian said his father, Younes, helped found Qualcomm, the $2 billion-a-year chip maker, launching his son on a successful real-estate career. The younger Nazarian's holding company owns 83 percent stake in the Ritz Plaza project, according to documents on file with Miami Beach.

Nazarian said the Ritz Plaza planned to lead South Beach in luxury service -- including Rolls Royce pick-ups from the airport. But he said he wants the Ritz Plaza to come in with rates just below the Delano, where a peak-season room is running between $400 and $900 a night.

During his brief interview amid the throngs of Icon guests wanting to meet him -- one middle-aged woman stared and said: You're so cool -- Starck said he did not have time to detail his plans for the Ritz Plaza. But he rejected the idea that the public would hold his new hotel up to his most famous one.

"People can say what they want," he said. "But we don't need to compare."

-----To see more of The Miami Herald -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

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