|By Doug Hanks, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 8, 2008 --Orient-Express will build a hotel in South Beach with the Related Group, which recently scrapped plans for a condominium tower on the oceanfront site.
The $150 million project marks the first new South Florida project in three years for Related, which led the way in Florida's condominium boom before that market hit a severe downturn.
The Miami company recently canceled sales contracts for the planned Viceroy condo-hotel tower on the site at 801 South Pointe Dr. and will be a full partner with Orient-Express in building the new hotel, executives said.
It will include 100 rooms and 28 condominiums selling for $2 million and up, but Related Chairman Jorge Perez said financing the project does not depend on selling any of the condos ahead of time. Owners of the condominiums will have access to hotel services, and the units might eventually function as condo-hotels with owners able to rent them out to guests, Perez said.
"We felt at this point we wanted to do much more of a hotel project than a condominium project," Perez said. "We think the future of both the hotel and real estate businesses is in providing great, great services."
Related plans two other Orient-Express ventures in Panama City, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. The companies described the trio of projects as the launching pad for more expansion, particularly in Latin America.
"Both of us see this as the start of something big for the future," said Orient-Express CEO Paul White.
Orient-Express, which bears the name of a luxury train famous for its European treks and the title of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, operates four resorts in the United States and is planning a new hotel in New York, where it owns the restaurant 21.
It considers itself the leading luxury hotel brand in South America, a key market for Related as it looks to grow amid a dismal housing market in the United States.
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