|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 14, 2012--For years, television shows have been making over people, wardrobes, homes, restaurants and even beauty salons. Now hotels -- some of them in South Florida -- are getting a turn.
New Travel Channel show Hotel Impossible, which debuted April 9, will feature two Miami-Dade hotels in upcoming episodes that air at 10 p.m. Monday and April 23: the Penguin Hotel on South Beach and the New Yorker in Miami's MiMo district.
The crew filmed these episodes, and one in Fort Lauderdale, in December and January; there are 13 episodes this season. The one featuring Fort Lauderdale's Ocean Manor Resort is scheduled to air May 7.
Hotel industry veteran Anthony Melchiorri spends four days with hotel owners for each hour-long episode, listening to their woes, inspecting their property and targeting areas that can be fixed (quickly).
"When I leave, if your hotel isn't changed it's not my fault -- it's yours," he said in an interview with The Miami Herald.
Melchiorri brings that blunt -- some might say brutal -- honesty to his interactions with hotel owners, as viewings of the episodes revealed.
When he confronted Penguin Hotel owner Markus Friedli about some issues at the hotel, 1418 Ocean Dr., Friedli got up and walked away, saying in a voiceover, "I don't like him."
"I like the guy," Friedli said in an interview this week. "I had to push back on the first day because otherwise he would have just rolled me over ... I needed to make a little bit of drama on my side."
He said a real estate agent who knew someone involved with the show approached him about participating. He thought it was a remodeling show; in the market for a new lobby, he and wife Giada Rocca agreed to be included. Although he and Melchiorri initially clashed, the end result brought Friedli exactly what he had been seeking: a redone lobby, plus a signature drink and some national exposure.
"It was actually fun to understand and be involved with a show like that," said Friedli, who also owns the nearby President Hotel. "There is not too much reality in reality shows."
Friedli said he is glad the show is airing now after the 42-room budget-friendly hotel made it through a record winter with 95 percent occupancy in February and 97 percent in March. With a restaurant now open and a liquor license as of last week, the timing is right, he said.
"We're ready to welcome our guests," Friedli said.
Melchiorri said owners likely agree to be on the show for "a free commercial" but get more than they bargained for.
"When I show up and I look them in the eye ... I think they're a little shocked by my intensity," he said.
While his antics seem tailor-made for television (at one point he bangs his head on a counter in frustration), Melchiorri said he doesn't exaggerate for the audience.
"This is real. This is 100 percent me doing my job, and the only difference is people are following me with cameras," he said. "My skill of managing owners and knowing when to push them against the wall is something I've learned over a 20-year career."
Over those years, he has launched or repositioned hotels including the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan and Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando -- though he said his some of his earliest experiences date back to childhood in Sunny Isles Beach, where his uncle owned a hotel across from the Rascal House called the Driftwood. Melchiorri, 9 at the time, stayed at the property.
Now he runs the hotel consulting firm that he founded, New York-based Argeo Hospitality. Melchiorri said he came up with the show three years ago because he wanted to show what hard work the hotel business is.
"When you're doing it so quickly in four days and really doing it, you're really changing people's lives," he said. "Maybe I'll just cut to the chase on camera, but then I'll spend my lunch hour off camera with the owners going through everything and making sure they're 100 percent comfortable with what I'm saying."
Shirley Diaz said she appreciated that care when Melchiorri came to the New Yorker, the Miami hotel she runs with her husband Walter Figueroa.
"He was very, very nice to us," she said.
Put in touch with the show's producers through a friend of a friend of a friend, Diaz said she had no idea what to expect. But her real goal was to grow awareness for the recently upgraded property, in which she and her husband invested their savings.
The 50-room hotel at 6500 Biscayne Blvd. -- now retro-chic with rates in May starting at $80 -- has been in her family since her father, Victor Diaz, bought it more than 25 years ago.
"I just want people to know we're here," she said. "I want people to see what we're doing for this area. I am an advocate of this area changing."
Still in debt from the renovation project, living at the hotel with her family (including triplet daughters) and facing medical problems, Diaz is shown stretched to her limits and worrying about the limited time she gets to spend with her girls.
"This is more than just saving a business," Melchiorri says on the show. "This is saving a family."
By the end of the four-day experience, the property had a sunshine-hued new courtyard, a decked-out hotel shuttle, an organized office and a new sign that says "Hotel New Yorker" instead of the old "Motel New Yorker."
While thrilled about the sign change, Diaz said she's getting some pushback from the state, which classifies the property as a motel. Diaz says she's can't afford to take the sign down and is simply calling it the "New Yorker" now.
Melchiorri said the episode was emotional for everyone.
"I loved those people. I cried a lot in that episode," he said. "They're working so hard. I pray every day that they're going to be able to do it."
(c)2012 The Miami Herald
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