Boardroom in the News

January 19, 2012


New St. Regis hotel puts Bal Harbour on the hospitality map

With the opening of a new luxury hotel, a village famous for its shopping center is poised to become a destination unto itself.


The tiny village of Bal Harbour, best known for its luxury shopping mall, has sought for years to be recognized as more than an afternoon stop for upscale shoppers — a task made more challenging by the lack of a well-known hotel.

Enter luxury hotel brand St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, which is in the midst of a worldwide expansion that includes Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

On Thursday, Bal Harbour joined that growing list as the 28th St. Regis hotel, cousin to the 1904 Manhattan classic.

“It was clear to us and the research we did that this was a very special location — very affluent local suburb, attracts a very affluent international audience,” said Paul James, global brand leader for St. Regis, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “It was among the best beachfront locations we had in our portfolio anywhere.”

The $1 billion development, which includes a 243-room hotel and two residential towers, opened Thursday after about six years of planning, demolition and construction.

Starwood, a global company with a market capitalization of nearly $1.8 billion, financed the project and owns the finished product. The company also owned the elaborately landscapedSheraton that once sat on the property (and started its life in 1956 as the Morris Lapidus-designed Americana.) The Sheraton was demolished in 2007, and while the project slowed slightly during the economic downturn, James said the company remained confident in their plans. A spokeswoman said early 2012 has been the target opening date all along.

The end result, at 9307 Collins Ave., is bedecked in antiqued mirrors, rare marble, coral motifs, rosebud ceilings, contemporary art — and expansive views from giant rooms that start, as an introductory special, at $675 a night.

“This is the worst view in the hotel,” said general manager Marco Selva, touring a fourth-floor standard room.

The balcony of the 650-square-foot room offers a wide view of sand, sea and sky. But it hardly compares to the 2,800-square-foot Presidential Suite, with a balcony wrapping around 1,200 square feet and a private elevator, kitchen, media room, two bedrooms and dining room. Guests with Presidential Suite aspirations can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 (“on a Monday in September,” Selva said) to $30,000 a night.

With those rates and amenities, the St. Regis finds itself in the company of the market’s top luxury properties, including the Setai, Delano and W South Beach.

The hotel brings the region’s first restaurant from star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, J & G Grill, and its signature butler service. About two dozen butlers will serve on a staff of 500.Their jobs include everything that make a guest feel at home, unpacking or packing luggage, drawing shades, delivering coffee.

For a town with just three other hotels, all independent, the arrival of a major brand such as St. Regis is a boost to efforts to grow a reputation as a play-and-stay destination.

“For the destination, it’s huge,” said Carolyn Travis, Bal Harbour’s executive director of tourism. “In every way you look at it, it’s huge. It’s exciting.”

Travis has a nearly $2 million budget for marketing Bal Harbour as a sophisticated enclave near Miami Beach but distinguished by a focus on fashion, culture and food rather than partying. Six sales and public relations offices worldwide promote tourism for the village, and the new hotel will be a key part of that outreach, Travis said.

“This is a huge part of our story for 2012,” she said. “And it will continue to be.”

While the village has used resort tax revenues to promote tourism since 1968, a host of new initiatives have started since Travis’ arrival 2 1/2 years ago. They include free village-sponsored activities for visitors such as yoga and pilates classes on the beach, art events, a free shuttle that runs up and down Collins Avenue and free outdoor movies.

The Bal Harbour Shops are undergoing their own transition, as several longtime brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior moved out and new stores, including Balenciaga, CH Carolina Herrera and Stella McCartney have moved in. Plans for an expansion that would bring about 50 new tenants are still in the works; negotiations are still under way to buy the neighboring land that is now owned by Church by the Sea.

Surrounding areas have also sought to draw tourists who want more than the South Beach experience; Surfside, nestled between Miami Beach and Bal Harbour, hosts a 3rd Thursday series featuring concerts and roving musicians between November and April. And 18 restaurants participate in “Surfside Spice,” a fixed-price restaurant promotion similar to the larger Miami Spice, from July to September. “A Taste of Surfside,” in August, will repeat this year with outdoor tastings.

For those who want to do more than visit, the St. Regis development includes 255 condo units in two residential towers, ranging from two to five bedrooms at prices between $1.9 million and more than $10 million. Slightly more than 70 percent of those condos are under contract and sales have closed on more than 40 units, said John Manrique, vice president of sales and marketing for Starwood Vacation Ownership.

The bulk are regular condos, but a few dozen are condo-hotel units in the hotel tower. Manrique said about 70 percent of buyers are international, mainly from Latin America and Europe.

That’s the norm these days for condo sales in general and in condo-hotel hybrids throughout South Florida, experts say, despite sales faltering during the recession.

Katy Stoka, director of residential sales for W South Beach, said about 60 percent of buyers there are international -— and at least 90 percent of buyers pay cash.

Of the $400 million developers plan to sell at the W project, they have closed $250 million so far. The hotel opened in 2009.

“Without trying to sound like a cheesy sales person, it’s just a really great time right now to be on the ocean selling real estate in Miami Beach,” Stoka said. “I have a full crew of sales people and we are never sitting down.”

The Four Seasons on Brickell has sold nearly all of its available units, and the Epic in downtown Miami has sold 304 of 342 units, according to Bal Harbour-based real estate consultancy Condo Vultures.

“Today it looks as if the luxury high-end, well-recognized flag operator on a condo hotel seems to be doing well,” he said. “A year or two ago, it would have been a completely different story.”

For their part, St. Regis executives say they are pleased to be opening now.

“We’re very confident this is the right time,” James said. “Miami is booming. It’s a very popular destination, it’s established itself way beyond a North American tourism destination: a vibrant city in its own right.”

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