|By Dusty Ricketts, Northwest Florida
Daily News, Fort Walton BeachMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 14, 2013--ROSEMARY BEACH -- This beachfront community's first hotel hopes to bring a new level of luxury to the South Walton area.
The Pearl will be Rosemary Beach's first hotel and will feature 55 luxury guest rooms, two restaurants, a pool deck and a full spa when it opens in mid-July.
"We have a focus. Our vision is 'you centric,'" said Michael Votta, general manager of The Pearl. "Everything we do here at the property is focused around our guests. If they want to go the beach, we're going to have beach chairs. If they're into technology, we're going to have individual iPads in each of the rooms that they can take to the beach."
"We believe we will create a guest experience unlike any other in America," Votta added.
Havana Beach will be the cornerstone restaurant for the new hotel, with a fine dining menu that draws inspiration from Caribbean, Mexican and New Orleans influences and will seat 110 people. The hotel will also have Sol Luna, a rooftop bar and restaurant that will overlook the Gulf of Mexico.
Although The Pearl is still about two months away from opening, the building already has an interesting history.
Construction on the building that would become The Pearl started about seven years ago as a hotel and restaurant project developed by Joe Malugen, the owner of the Movie Gallery chain of home video rental stores. After the downturn in the economy and the near collapse of the boxed movie rental business that followed, Movie Gallery closed in 2010 and the unfinished hotel building fell into receivership.
About a year ago, the Aureus Hospitality Group, which also owns the Hotel Artesano in Napa Valley, took over the hotel building and has been preparing for its opening.
"The original owner of the hotel had very high taste, which in fact we do as well," Votta said. "Our goal is to be one of the top 50 resorts in all of America in the next two years."
One of the key facets to help the hotel achieve that will be its staff, Votta said.
The Aureus Hospitality Group is holding a career fair that started Monday and will run through today and Wednesday looking to hire roughly 100 full and part time employees. Kami Smith, director of human resources for the hotel, said The Pearl was looking for the best people in the hospitality industry and for people who wanted a career and not just a job.
"We're looking for people with experience, people without experience, the main thing with this is we want people who want a career in this area," Smith said. "These are not seasonal positions, 60 to 70 percent of our staff will be fulltime with benefits.
"We're not looking to have layoffs in the slow season," Smith added. "This is a true career opportunity."
Walton County currently has an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent, the second lowest in the state. Local economist David Goetsch said the hotel will likely have to find the bulk of its employees from nearby counties.
"It's going to be a good thing for the job market. They would have done better to have opened up two years ago," Goetsch said. "It would have been easier to get their employees and by now those employees would be experienced and have some loyalty built up to them. What's going to happen now, since it is Rosemary Beach, it will also compete for employees with Panama City Beach."
As long as unemployment rates in Gulf, Liberty and Bay counties remain higher than Okaloosa and Walton counties, The Pearl will be able to find the employees it needs easily, Goetsch said.
But if unemployment continues to drop throughout Northwest Florida, The Pearl might end up needing to bus in its employees from Alabama, something several resorts had to do locally before the recession, he said.
Rosemary Beach officials are excited to have the hotel so close to opening and the year-round business it is expected to bring to the area.
"This has been a long time in the making," said Kathy Kemp, town center director for Rosemary Beach. "I think it's going to be well worth the wait. They are doing everything top-notch. ... We're just thrilled to have them here and can't wait for them to open their doors in July."
Rosemary Beach currently has one bed and breakfast, the Pensione, several condominiums and about 750 single family residences, about half of which are available for rent.
"I think (The Pearl) will be a great thing for Walton County and Northwest Florida," said Jim Bagby, town manager for Rosemary Beach. "We're looking forward to them being active members not only in this community, but in the larger community in South Walton County."
Contact Daily News Business Editor Dusty Ricketts at 850-315-4448 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DustyRnwfdn.
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