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WSG Development Company Set Opens the $500 million Canyon Ranch Miami Beach;
A room at $650 and a Diagnostic Session at $3,400 
By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 11, 2008 - Morning dip in the ocean? Check. Haute cuisine by the beach? Check. Cardiometabolic stress test? Check.

Add medical diagnostics to the must-do list for vacationers checking in to South Florida's newest resort this week. Canyon Ranch Living-Miami Beach hopes to cut through the growing list of high-end hotel offerings with a pricey mix of health screenings, spa treatments and wellness services running the gamut from nutrition to dealing with midlife angst.

Day One at Canyon Ranch might include a coordination and balance assesment ($165) followed by a 100-minute Japanese bathing ritual ($330) and then on to an 80-minute stone massage ($240) and a $350 insomnia consultation with a doctor.

Developers hope their $500 million Canyon Ranch, like its namesake Arizona resort, will attract throngs of affluent baby boomers willing to pay handsomely to ward off aging. But this week's opening comes during lean times for luxury in general, adding to the financial pressure on a condominium resort that revolves around expensive -- if healthful -- indulgences.

"We have very, very wealthy buyers," said Eric Sheppard, a partner in WSG Development. (A publicist later volunteered that CSI:Miami star David Caruso is among Canyon Ranch Miami Beach's owners.)


WSG launched Canyon Ranch Miami Beach on the site of the old Carillon Hotel at 68th Street and Collins Avenue in 2005, at the height of South Florida's condominium boom. It offered 581 units -- 431 standard condos and 150 condo-hotel units -- for between $500,000 and $8 million. More than 500 units sold, and Sheppard said he has seen roughly 10 percent of buyers try to back out of their contracts.

In this battered condo market, developers cherish cancellation rates that low. But Canyon Ranch can't rest easy once a contract closes. To remain profitable, it needs a population of unit owners eager to not just pay monthly dues but to participate in the expensive lifestyle Canyon Ranch offers.

The resort, set to open Wednesday, employs a full-time medical staff of 11, including a Chinese medicine specialist, nutritionist and a physical therapist.

Private rooms surrounding the 75,000-square-foot health club (including a 32-foot-tall climbing wall) contain equipment for conducting tests on oxygen saturation and bone density, along with body composition scans designed to guide the fitness staff in creating exercise regimens.

Dr. Karen Koffler, the former head of integrative medicine at Evanston Northwestern Hospital in Illinois, ducks into a darkened room a few steps from the treadmills containing a $125,000 body scanner.

"It's the best bone-density and body-composition machine that is made," said Koffler, the resort's clinical director.

While it can detect signs of bone loss in spines and hips, the device also allows fitness instructors to ditch the metal calipers typically used to measure body fat in favor of a digital image that can reveal a person's true fitness level.

"There's a lot of . . . skinny-fat women," Koffler said. "They're thin because genetically they were blessed with the tendency to be thin. But if you peer under the tissue, there's fat under there because they're not physically active."

To ensure clients follow the staff's workout regimens, trainers issue memory sticks embedded with each routine. When plugged into the gym's weight machines and cardio equipment, the cards won't let users lift too much and will take note if the intensity level falls short of the workout plan.

It's a perk (or curse) Canyon Ranch guests will surrender once their vacation ends. But for residents, the devices reflect the kind of lifestyle developers saw as the main selling point for Canyon Ranch Living.

Mark Lunt, a hotel analyst for Ernst & Young in Miami, sees Canyon Ranch's wellness focus trumping the spa offerings now standard at luxury hotels across South Florida. But he sees short-term hardships in keeping the bottom line healthy amid a surge in new luxury hotels and a decline in travel.

"Opening in 2008 is probably not what they wanted," he said. Even so, "the interest in health and wellness among baby boomers is so great. They're suffering right now because of the stock market, but they do have wealth. Places like Canyon Ranch are going to be in their cross hairs."


Nearly 30 years after the original Canyon Ranch opened in Tucson, the Miami Beach resort will be only the third of its kind. Unlike the ones in Tucson and Lenox, Mass., this Canyon Ranch does not position itself as an "immersion" destination, where guests are expected to spend 24 hours within the confines of the resort.

That might be workable in the desert or the mountains, but not in a vacation spot like South Florida. And while the hotel's restaurant follows Canyon Ranch dietary guidelines (no Coca-Cola, no Splenda) this is the only one to serve alcohol.

A room on a December weekend costs $650, and the diagnostic sessions as much as $3,400. But resort executives are so confident of Canyon Ranch's appeal, they've banned the public from all areas but the restaurant and beauty salon.

While some guests will order all their meals from the resort's nutritionally screened menu, others "will say I've done very well today with breakfast and lunch. I've worked out. I'm going to have a little fun and treat myself," said Matthias Kammerer, the Miami Beach resort's managing director.

"Hopefully," he added, "they won't be clubbing into the wee hours of the morning and undo all the good things they've done."


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