|By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 18, 2006 - The Fort Lauderdale Marina Marriott Hotel has cancelled room blocks for 16 major business meetings through November amid speculation that the hotel is close to being sold.
The 579-room hotel was severely damaged during Hurricane Wilma and nearly half of its rooms are not in use.
Located across the 17th Street Causeway from the Broward County Convention Center, the Marriott hosts part of nearly every sizeable convention group that uses the facility.
Dennis Edwards, executive vice president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that among the meeting blocks that have been relocated from the Marina Marriott were those for this week's Tropical Plant Industry Exposition, and the rooms reserved by the vision research group known as ARVO, which brings about 10,000 people to Fort Lauderdale in May.
He said most of the meeting delegates have been rebooked at the Marriott Harbor Beach and Renaissance Fort Lauderdale hotels.
"Our hotels were very good at working with the Marina Marriott," Edwards said.
Murray Lowe, general manager of the hotel, said a number of staff members have also been placed at other Marriott hotels in the area. He said the meeting blocks were relocated because only 306 of the hotel's 579 rooms are available to be rented.
"We're on that track until re-investment occurs," said Lowe, referring to the number of rooms the hotel will operate going forward.
Lowe declined to elaborate on who might be investing in the hotel, which is the third largest hotel in Broward County.
Mark Ellert, president of Interlink Asset Group, a hotel brokerage firm in Fort Lauderdale, said the hotel may be using the hurricane repairs as a chance to change its strategy.
"There are incessant rumors that the property is being actively marketed," Ellert said. "Maybe there's going to be an ownership change or a name change." A few other hotels sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Wilma, including the 200-room Holiday Inn Hollywood Beach and the 230-room Oceanfront Hotel, both of which are closed. Ellert said there are plans to convert the Oceanfront, formerly a Doubletree Hotel, into a Courtyard by Marriott once a non-compete agreement with another Courtyard expires.
Efforts to reach executives at Pyramid Advisors LLC, of Boston, which owns the Oceanfront, were unsuccessful.
Scott Brush, an independent lodging consultant in Miami, said it is taking a long time for some Florida hotels to bounce back after Wilma. "The rebuilding is awfully tough for properties dealing with contractors," he said.
But Brush also said that hotels with damage are using the occasion to make extra upgrades or plan remodeling work that otherwise might be done later.
Scott Berman, a hospitality consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Miami, said that some hotels in Cancun expect to take more than a year to re-open after enduring Hurricane Wilma's 140 mile an hour winds, but that it is surprising for a Florida hotel to have rooms empty for so long.
"Obviously, if that's the case it's because there's severe structural damage," Berman said.
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