|By Douglas Hanks Iii, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 10, 2005 - Jorge Perez, who has made a fortune selling condominiums in a market flooded with high-rise projects, now sees room in another crowded sector: luxury Miami hotels.
Florida's biggest condo developer plans to bring a hip West Coast hotel to Brickell Avenue, where the Four Seasons, Conrad Hilton, Mandarin Oriental and JW Marriott already compete for well-heeled business travelers.
But Perez sees his Viceroy at Icon Brickell creating a new niche by catering to younger, stylish executives eager for South Beach chic in the city's premier financial district. The 129-room Viceroy will have a rooftop pool and lounge on the 50th floor, a luxury spa, and interiors by the designer behind the Delano, South Beach's iconic boutique hotel.
"We want to be able to compete for the same market" as Brickell's top-tier hotels, said Perez, chairman of Miami's Related Group. "We're doing it with a totally different vibe."
When the Mandarin opened in 2000, it was considered Miami's first top-tier hotel since the Grand Bay's slide below five stars in the 1990s. But the Mandarin quickly found company, with three Ritz-Carltons and a Four Seasons opening within 15 miles. The Setai, where rooms go for $1,000 a night, opened this year in South Beach, and a luxury hotel is planned for Miami's Watson Island.
Surging room rates and a year of low vacancies have kept analysts and developers bullish on the South Florida lodging market.
But the constellation of ritzy options (a Ritz-Carlton timeshare has been announced for Miami Beach, too) have some wondering when that market will be considered full. And, high gas prices, slipping consumer confidence, and hurricanes are prompting worries about some softness in the travel market, both here and across the country. And for Brickell Avenue, a slower travel market could mean even tighter competition for Viceroy.
"It's going to be tough, just because of what's going on in Brickell," said Scott Brush, a lodging consultant in Palmetto Bay. "You've got the Four Seasons and the Mandarin and the JW Marriott. . . "
Last year Related signed a $94 million contract for the 598-room Sheraton Biscayne Bay, which will be demolished to make way for the Icon Brickell residential complex. One of the three Icon towers will be named the Viceroy Resorts and Residences, and condos there will have access to Viceroy perks like room service. Ninety of the 129 Viceroy rooms in the tower will be sold as condo-hotel units, Related said in a press release.
This would be the first East Coast property for Viceroy, though the operator behind the brand, Kor Hotel Group, also runs the Tides Hotel, considered one of the hippest boutiques on South Beach.
Perez has tentative plans to build a second Viceroy -- this one actually in South Beach, in parking lots surrounding the Taverna Opa restaurant on the 100 block of Ocean Drive. The sister property would give Viceroy's Brickell guests access to the ocean through the Nikki Beach Club. Perez hopes that will also give his Brickell hotel a leg up on the competition.
Robert Thrailkill, general manager of the Conrad, described the Brickell hotel market as one that's seen steep revenue growth during the last two years, but which still has plenty of down time.
"There's basically six months of great business, and six months of business that we're all trying to get," he said.
He thinks the Mary Brickell retail village opening in the Brickell area next year will draw leisure travelers. But with many Brickell buildings, including three of the four luxury hotels there, pocked with plywood from windows smashed by Hurricane Wilma, the financial district suddenly finds itself challenged.
"There's still a lot of questions out there about what this area might look like in a few years," Thrailkill said.
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