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The 393-room James Royal Palm to Open Next Week in South Beach in Florida

The Completion of $42 Million Renovation Project of the Former Royal Palm Hotel

By Hannah Sampson, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 12, 2012--Classical music can be heard when the jackhammers take a break at 1545 Collins Avenue. The long driveway, blocked off for construction, is concealed in part by a colorful banner-as-art-installation.

The old Royal Palm hotel is coming back to life next week on Miami Beach with a new brand affiliation, $42 million in renovations and a heavy emphasis on local arts organizations.

That includes partnerships with groups including the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, the National YoungArts Foundation and New World Symphony. The hotel has also tapped New York City fashion label Public School and its collaborator in Miami, Max Pierre, to design the uniforms and hold trunk shows at the hotel.

"It helps us create our identity in the local scene," said Patrick Hatton, the hotel's general manager.

Now the James Royal Palm, the 393-room property will reopen to guests Thursday after months of work. It is the third hotel in the upscale James brand, following locations in Chicago and New York. Once everything is finished by late November, the hotel will have two restaurants -- Florida Cookery and Catch -- three bars, three pools and a nightclub. There will also be a children's play area.

Renovations didn't touch the bones of the four-building property, but much of the interior has been completely made over to reflect the brand's style of "warm modernism." Corridors on guest-room floors have wall coverings that look like wood, and rooms are accented in blue and green with mirrors positioned to reflect ocean views.

Lisa Zandee, senior vice president of brand management for operator Denihan, whose portfolio includes the James brand, said the goal was to create space for relaxation as well as typical South Beach vibrancy.

Hatton said special opening rates are around $299 for weekends, but he expects prices in the mid-$300 range during the slow season and mid-$400 to $500 a night during high season. Those prices could be almost double what the hotel used to fetch.

KSL Capital Partners, a private-equity firm, bought the property for $130 million last April from Sunstone Hotel Investors, which had purchased it the previous August through a foreclosure auction. The current version of the hotel, a tear-down and reconstruction of the previous historic structure, opened in 2002 after developer R. Donahue Peebles won the deal to open the country's first majority black-owned hotel.

Peebles sold most of the hotel in 2005 to investors Guy Mitchell and Robert Falor, who planned to convert it to a condo-hotel. That plan flopped, and the property eventually went into foreclosure.

In its newest life, the hotel will appeal to guests in part because of the arts focus, Hatton said.

YoungArts alum Lucia Sanchez and her father, Oliver, created the banner that hangs in front of the hotel, and the New World Symphony chose the music that is playing outside -- selections that fellows from the orchestral academy will perform this season. A New World ensemble will perform at the grand opening. As part of the MOCA partnership, local artist Jorge Pantoja is contributing a permanent installation and will show selections of his work later in the year.

Zandee said partnerships with the local groups include free or reduced-rate hotel rooms and space for membership events as well as cash sponsorships.

"I think this is such a progressive concept," said Stacey Glassman Mizener, assistant vice president of development at New World Symphony. "I think that it really makes them stand out in the community in terms of making an investment in the arts."

The hotel is hardly alone in its affection for creativity: The Betsy Hotel nearby is known for its arts focus and the Sagamore up the street calls itself "The Art Hotel."

"Our approach was to be really focused on the local art market," Hatton said. The brand's two other hotels also have an emphasis on arts.

That track record persuaded participating local groups to join forces with the hotel. Paul T. Lehr, executive director of YoungArts, said the organization had been looking for a hotel partner and considered both big chains and small boutiques.

"There was something different about the James," he said. "They really were interested in making the arts part of their brand."


(c)2012 The Miami Herald

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