|By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel, Fort
Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 01, 2010 - --A new hotel is scheduled to open on Fort Lauderdale beach in December, a signal that the worst of the tourism slump may be over for South Florida, some analysts say.
Rising at the site of the former Holiday Inn at Sunrise Boulevard and AIA is the B Ocean Fort Lauderdale. Gutted and renovated from plumbing to custom furniture, the 240-room hotel will boast high-tech and chic features like wireless Internet everywhere and lobby lights that change color from day to night.
Prices for rooms, all with ocean views, are expected to start at $189 this winter and run $399 or more a night for master suites. For summer, rates likely will start at $129 a night, a price point designed to be "very approachable," said Chris Tompkins, vice president of B Hotels & Resorts, the South Florida company launching the new "B" brand.
B will test its concept in Fort Lauderdale before rolling out to other cities yet to be decided, he said.
The renovated hotel boasts new floor-to-ceiling windows on the ground floor, top-floor events area and in many rooms offer spectacular views up and down AIA and out to the ocean. The lobby features a cocktail lounge, bistro and sushi restaurant -- all featuring views out to the sea.
The swimming pool area is being remade with an infinity-edge pool, cabanas and a stage to host up to five musicians. And a third elevator has been added to whisk guests with express service to the top-floor events area, where windows offers views past the Intra-coastal to the downtown skyline.
Rooms also boast custom touches, such as white leather faces on cabinets and a textured bed pillow in the same blue and green hues as the Atlantic Ocean outside, a tour Monday showed.
The 42-year-old hotel is being resurrected following a shutdown from hurricane damage and a shrinking tourism market. Hurricane Wilma pummeled the roof in 2005, and owners sold the property to private equity group Blackstone. New owners unveiled plans in 2006 for a luxury makeover into a proposed "Stay Social" brand, but efforts fizzled as the U.S. recession sent travel plummeting.
A South Florida investment group, Insite of Weston, bought the hotel last year for $13.75 million in cash, "less than what the land would have cost" during the peak of the real-estate boom, said hotel analyst Scott Brush of Miami. That bargain price leaves investors room to re-develop the hotel and ride the market up.
"We've already hit bottom and things are improving, so they are opening on the upside," Brush said.
Plans for the new hotel show Fort Lauderdale has "truly come of age," shedding its former image as a "Where The Boys Are" Spring Break magnet or as a poor cousin to Miami, said hotel analyst Greg Bohan, who runs Florida operations for Pinnacle Advisory Group from Pompano Beach.
But while a debt-free B Ocean hotel should perform well as the travel market improves, launching a new brand nationwide is a riskier proposition, Bohan said.
"The marketplace is extremely crowded, and most brands are coming from the big boys like Starwood or even Virgin," said Bohan, referring to plans for a Virgin Hotels chain with a Miami unit. "To launch an unaffiliated brand is a big challenge."
Tompkins said the new brand from B Hotels & Resorts -- led by real estate developer Ayelet Weinstein -- differs from rivals in several ways. It seeks to be accessible to a wide audience: people from 30 to 70, who are active, social and mobile. It is less reliant on younger clientele than Starwood's W. And it offers more custom features than most hotels at its price, like hand-made walls raised to look like waves in the Fort Lauderdale lobby.
"It's a four-star brand at a three-star price -- for people who want quality but don't want to spend too much," added Ron Tencer, vice president and acquisitions and development at Insite.
B Ocean is Insite's second Fort Lauderdale hotel after the Doubletree Gallery One suite hotel near Galleria Mall. The group aims to buy hotel properties in "major markets" such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles and to upgrade and re-brand them. It pays cash, raised largely from private investors and from hedge funds, Tencer said.
The group already is eyeing a second investment at B Ocean: more rooms on top of the adjacent garage, where former owners had considered building luxury condos, said Tencer.
Managed by Davidson Hotel Co. of Memphis, the new hotel seeks a broad mix of clients: leisure, business, international and groups. It's installing eco-friendly features to be certified "green," as required by many groups, said Tompkins, who had worked with W Fort Lauderdale among other area resorts.
An oceanfront hotel with a broad reach is welcome news for analyst Brush. "It's great for the beach that this property is going to be re-opened, and at a price more accessible to a wider market" than luxury hotels nearby, Brush said. "I would hate to see Fort Lauderdale lose out on mid-market families."
Doreen Hemlock can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5009.
To see more of the Sun Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com/.
Copyright (c) 2010, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).