|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 20, 2012--On a stretch of downtown Miami's Southeast First Street that includes a dollar store, electronics shop and empty storefronts, developers are banking on the future of a historic building.
The former Miami National Bank building, built in 1925, is in the early stages of becoming the boutique Langford Hotel. If all goes according to plan, the 132-room property at 121 SE First St. will be ready for guests by December 2013.
Project managers from developer Stambul USA could not be reached for details about the project because they have been in China, a spokeswoman said. But the company's website for the hotel, eb5hotel.com, describes a luxury space with a rooftop bar and ground-floor restaurant.
On the website, Stambul USA -- associated with Venezuelan development company Stambul -- is seeking investment from foreign nationals by offering green cards for investors and their family in exchange for cash ($500,000 plus about $50,000 in administrative and legal fees) as part of the EB-5 visa program.
Created by Congress in 1990, the program has gained popularity in recent years as traditional bank loans have become more difficult to come by.
No one from the company, which is headed by Daniel Pena-Giraldi, Luis Rojas and Veronica Rojas, was available to answer questions about where they are seeking investors or how many are lined up.
Boaz Ashbel, managing director of Coconut Grove investment banking firm Aztec Group, said some projects funded through the EB-5 program have been successful -- though some have not. "It is my personal opinion that the jury is still out on this," said Ashbel, who handles hotel business for the firm. "It's a very complicated program that requires a tremendous amount of upfront investment and extensive bureaucratic underwriting."
Ashbel said he hopes the developers are successful.
"I think that they can create a new area of focus for a lot of developers to try and essentially focus on that part of downtown that I think has really been neglected until now," he said.
For downtown's central business district, an area that has long been known for being busy during the day and deserted at night, a chic new hotel would be a welcome addition.
Alyce Robertson, executive director of Miami's Downtown Development Authority, said efforts to revitalize nearby Flagler Street are already under way. "This will put people in there," she said. "There are some little cute restaurants that are happening in and around there, and I think this will help."
Patrick Goddard, chief operating officer of Coral Gables-based Trust Hospitality, which is providing pre-opening services tothe Langford, said there are some promising signs.
"We're seeing people out and about in that area later and later, and we think by the time this product comes online, we're going to be very well positioned," he said.
Trust Hospitality, which has a contract to operate the Langford, already handles operations at hotels around the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America, including boutique properties such as the Carlyle and Lord Balfour in South Beach. "The opportunity to do something that was authentically Miami was one that we wanted to jump on," Goddard said.
He said he expects the hotel to draw business clients, leisure travelers and cruise ship passengers because if its proximity to PortMiami and the city's financial district. Goddard said the property plans to position itself between brands such as the Holiday Inn and luxury properties such as the Mandarin Oriental, Miami and Four Seasons.
While downtown Miami offers its share of upscale and budget-friendly properties -- a Courtyard by Marriott is just around the corner -- historic boutique hotels are mostly clustered in South Beach.
Suzanne Amaducci-Adams, a partner at Bilzin Sumberg and head of the firm's hospitality practice, said some travelers will likely be attracted just because the hotel is in a historic downtown building.
"It creates a buzz for the hotel; it's just not another select service hotel where they're all the same," she said. "You need to have a draw for your hotel and that's the thing."
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