|By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida
Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 8, 2006 - Fort Lauderdale will get a dose of South Beach chic with the redevelopment of the Holiday Inn at Sunrise Boulevard and State Road A1A into a boutique hotel aimed at celebrities, fashion figures and jet-setters.
Blackstone Group has filed plans with the city for a $20 million conversion project that would transform the 38-year old hotel into the country's first Stay Social, a name with links to the Social restaurants in Miami Beach and Los Angeles.
Those restaurants are run by China Grill Management, whose executives have a hand in creating the new lodging concept.
"We have an opportunity to do with Social is what Ian Schrager did with the Delano 20 years ago," said John Tolbert, president of Blackstone's LXR Luxury Hotels subsidiary.
A former caterer, Schrager invented the hip hotel niche in the 1980s. His makeover of the faded Delano Hotel into an outpost for the fashion crowd enabled its owners to charge an average of $400 a night for a room. Those are the highest rates on Miami Beach said Scott Brush, a Miami lodging consultant.
Plans call for the Holiday Inn, which is open for business in the meantime, to get floor-to-ceiling windows, with pink glass balcony partitions. The yellow hotel will be repainted white, according to plans set for a city hearing next week.
Tolbert said that the exact configuration of the interior is being debated. One idea being explored is the extensive use of interactive television screens at the pool, bar and beach.
The Social restaurant in Miami Beach's Sagamore Hotel stretches through a passage between the front and back of the hotel. An eclectic style of furniture mixes 1960s Plexiglas bar stools with marble tables and oversized silvery wing back chairs.
Terry Zarikian, a spokesman for China Grill Management in Miami Beach, said the Social planned for Fort Lauderdale would have a different look.
Brush said Social would be an important addition to Fort Lauderdale's hospitality portfolio. "Fort Lauderdale has a lot of nice restaurants, but it doesn't have much in the way of the heavily trendy restaurants," he said.
A hallmark of such restaurants is their reputation as a place to be seen. "Typically they have good food, but their success or failure depends on the marketing," Brush said.
Jeffery Chodorow, president of China Grill Management, said the idea for Stay Social was born in February when LXR approached him about putting a restaurant in the hotel. "That hotel in particular has an incredible roof with great views," he said. As they talked, Chodorow suggested applying the Social idea to the whole hotel.
"The Social concept and brand is a lifestyle," said Chodorow, whose 24 restaurants in nine cities had sales of over $200 million last year. "It's not just about being a restaurant."
Chodorow's restaurant empire bloomed after a stint as president of Braniff Airways that ended badly. In 1995, he pled guilty to obstructing justice in a U.S. Department of Transportation inquiry for providing a false affidavit about the improper role of a partner in running the airline.
"It's irrelevant," Chodorow said of the Braniff affair.
Stay Social could get competition from the W Hotel planned for Fort Lauderdale beach, but it will likely be open faster. Once a building permit is granted, Blackstone figures it will take about six months before Stay Social is ready to debut.
The W Hotel is scheduled to open in December 2007.
Tolbert said that if it works in Fort Lauderdale, Stay Social could be expanded to other cities that lack a designer-type hotel.
"It will appeal to a guest who might have thought they had to go to Miami or New York or London for an adventurous, fun experience," he said.
Tom Stieghorst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5008.
Copyright (c) 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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