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Starwood Abandons the Fort Lauderdale Hotel Market 14 Months after Opening the
 St. Regis Fort Lauderdale Resort, Cites Contract Dispute with the
 Castillo Grand Ownership Group

By Julie Patel, South Florida Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 14, 2008 - --The St. Regis Fort Lauderdale Resort is being stripped of its coveted St. Regis name.

Time will tell if the posh beachfront resort will be considered as exclusive when the name is yanked by Starwood Hotels & Resorts on Aug. 10.

One of only seven St. Regis hotels in North America, the resort was considered a symbol of Fort Lauderdale's growing luxury hotel market, and some thought it had a shot to earn Mobil Travel Guide's top 5-star rating, a designation bestowed on only 37 hotels last year.

The 220-unit St. Regis on State Road A1A opened in May 2007 and was among the first hotels in South Florida to sell condominium units to investors as a way of reducing the initial project costs.

"We were excited that we were getting the state of Florida's first St. Regis. ... It was absolutely a big deal," Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Monday.

But a hotel by any other name will do as well, Grossman said.

"I don't expect this property is going to change," she said. "It was built to be an extremely high-end hotel."

Fort Lauderdale leaders said they're not too concerned that Starwood, which owns the St. Regis brand and manages the hotel, told them over the weekend it is severing ties to hotel owner Castillo Grand LCC.

Starwood officials declined to provide details on the reason, but Castillo Grand officials said the breakup boils down to a lawsuit over a philosophical difference in management style.

"They all play musical flags," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle said of hotel properties. "It would have been a concern if they were closing down for lack of business, but this is a contractual dispute."

In a letter Sunday to the city manager, Starwood said it's parting ways because Castillo Grand has "materially breached its management contract with Starwood ... after repeated requests and attempts to reconcile."

"This has nothing to do with the performance of the hotel," said K.C. Cavanagh, a spokeswoman for Starwood, which operates four hotels in the city.

Fred Bullard of Castillo Grand said problems surfaced when there were major management changes at Starwood, creating a ripple effect at St. Regis.

"It was the best thing to part company at this point before we got too established," Bullard said.

Bullard said his group plans to secure another "top-tier" hotel brand within a few weeks.

"The community will be very proud," he said.

Some of the hotel's 320 employees may be transferred to other Starwood hotels, and others may be kept by the new management company.

Julie Patel can be reached at or 954-356-4667.


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