Some of New York’s Hottest Hotels Are Finally Opening on Collins Avenue.
Recently we were in New York and two of our prime stops were hotels, the W New York- Union Square and the Hotel Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District. W’s landmark Guardian Life Building-in the beaux-arts style-is a wonderful granite and limestone structure that was carefully redone by architect David Rockwell. In 2003, Conde Nast Traveler listed it as one of the ‘Top 500 Hotels in the World.” We spent an evening at Todd English’s award-winning restaurant Olives, and then stayed ’til the early-morning hours at Rande Gerber’s watering hole Underbar.
If the W was wonderful, we were equally impressed with the Gansevoort, which bills itself as the Meatpacking District’s only luxury hotel. On a mild evening, we took some friends to the rooftop lounge. The centerpiece is a 45-foot, glass-surrounded swimming pool with underwater music. Much of the rest of the roof is landscaped as a garden, and has 360- degree city views. We ended up spending the night in the Gansevoort’s Plunge, an expansive loft with towering 20-foot ceilings and wall-to-wall windows.
Our visits to the W and the Gansevoort were not just to party, however, but also to research two New York giants that have announced ambitious plans to open in South Beach, directly across the street from each other. The hip Gansevoort will be at the Roney Palace between 23rd and 24th on Collins, and the more ubiquitous W at the site of the Holiday Inn, one block south. It’s the developer equivalent of a championship fight between major New York powerhouses. On the one side is the influential Achenbaum family, owners of the Gansevoort among much other New York real estate, and on the other is the giant Starwood corporation, which has the W as well as the Sheraton, St. Regis, Le Meridien and Westin chains. But battles in South Beach aren’t won by size alone.
In January we set out to explore both properties, almost a year away from opening, to try to discern which would become the next Shore Club or Setai.
The Achenbaums decided a couple of years ago to export their trendy Gansevoort to other cities. “South Beach was a natural fit for our customers,” Michael Achenbaum, the 33-year-old son of founder William, told us in the polished white sales office at 24th and Collins. The local hotel will be Gansevoort South, while Gansevoort West will be the complete renovation of a former church and concert hall in Los Angeles. There will also be a Gansevoort Las Vegas and one in London. “We want this to be our edgiest,” says Michael.
“The most ambitious is certainly the one in South Beach,” says Murray Kossman, the company’s executive vice president. To anyone who is familiar with the Roney, it is not hard to conceive that this is a total
gut job. But the challenge for the Achenbaums is different than what they faced in New York. There, the hotel led the way from gritty to chic. On South Beach, the chic is there, but the bar is high to instantly become one of those places where tourists must stay and locals want to hang out.
The Gansevoort has a plan to accomplish both. When completed, there will be 259 condos (that portion of the building named Paradiso), 102 condo/hotel rooms and 243 hotel rooms. The average room will be 600 square feet (large by South Beach standards and sprawling by boutique-hotel guidelines). Most of the units have ocean or city views.
But amenities will make the Gansevoort a local draw. With one of the largest private beaches in South Beach, the Achenbaums had Stephane Dupoux, the designer of Nikki Beach Club, do the three- level clubhouse and poolside- cabanas. Inside the lobby-past high-end boutiques-will be a 40,000-gallon shark tank, a bar and club. And while Michael won’t disclose the name, he has a handshake agreement with a nationally celebrated chef to open on the ground floor. That will also be where David Barton will launch-after abandoning his place at the Delano-a huge 45,000-square-foot gym and spa. (Crunch and Equinox, beware).
But the highlight of the Gansevoort will be the rooftop, much as it is in New York. The Achenbaums decided to forgo the profit of putting a penthouse on the roof (a la The Setai’s $12 million aerie), and instead make it South Beach’s most social lookout. The pool will be 112 feet long, larger than all but a handful of competitors, and surrounded by a 28,000-square-foot teak deck, with bars, food and DJs every night. The roof affords stunning panoramic views down the entire southern strip of the beach and out west to the Miami skyline. The hotel likely won’t open before December, but the Achenbaums are anxious to be ready for next January’s Super Bowl in Miami.
So the Gansevoort seems like a winner. What about the W, directly facing it from the south side? from Florida,” says Ross Klein, W’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. 9 went to the University of Miami. My first job was at Burdines. I remember when swans were in the fountains on Lincoln. I even remember when the Warsaw Ballroom was for sale for $18,000 and it couldn’t be financed.”
Ross’s trip down memory lane is not just to impress us with his Florida credentials. “I’m telling you all that for the same reason I went to every one of the Design Review Board meetings: to say we aren’t coming in as an outsider or a New York brand, but rather as a South Beach brand. I have a picture of my grandparents and me with their dachshunds in the Holiday Inn parking lot. I’m making sure what goes up there is very special.”
The broad, 19-story white tower strikes a Miami Modern chord. “I love Lapidus,” says Ross, “but I did not want a literal translation. I told the design team to imagine if he were alive today, since we had the great opportunity of doing something spectacular from the ground up. What would Morris Lapidus do to reinterpret MiMo today? It is such an important part of the history of Miami Beach and of Collins Avenue. In 2058, I want people celebrating the W the way they now talk about the Eden Roc and the Fontainebleau.”
While that might be a bit ambitious, there is little doubt the W will be a high-profile addition to the Beach. Developer David Edelstein, responsible for much of the renovation of Lincoln Road, says, ‘Miami Beach is ready for the next great hotel. The W South Beach project has an energy all its own, situated on the last great piece of oceanfront property, which I’ve had my eye on for years. I’ve developed many real- estate projects in New York City, Las Vegas and Miami, and this is by far the most vibrant, both in design and featured amenities.”
There are 20 Ws worldwide and more on the way, with the first W resort opening in June in the Maldives, and the first residential product-which is what they consider South Beach-in Dallas in July. In addition, other W Residences have been announced for next year and 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, Scottsdale and Hoboken.
Though the very clever designers Yabu Pushelberg and architects Costas Kondylis & Partners are doing W South Beach, there is a corporate feel to the site. But that’s not all bad, as plans show the W will likely achieve in many ways what Ross calls the “warmth of cool-we don’t want cool at the expense of comfort” When you walk into a W there is °diversity even in the sound, from Jay-Z and Norah Jones to Rosemary Clooney and Sinatra.”
It is a large project, with 425 condo/hotel rooms, some of those villas and others lofts. Each room rivals the Gansevoort’s marble bath for marble bath, but their average size is smaller than those next door.
A Bliss spa (Starwood bought New York-based Bliss in January 2004 for $25 million) will be open to locals. There will also be two restaurants, one the long awaited New York star Mister Chow’s, and at least one bar-perhaps Gerber knocking off his very hot New York Underbar. But after food and drink, the W starts to fall off for locals. Though it has 300 feet of pristine oceanfront property and will build two infinity-edge pools, both will be for residents and guests only. The W’s gym, Sweat, may be state-of-the-art, but won’t be open for local memberships like David Barton’s neighboring behemoth. And the top floor at the W is being sold as penthouses, not set aside for an enormous pool and rooftop lounge.
So the battle of the titans is under way, Gansevoort versus W.
But by the time they open, they won’t be the only new game in town. Ian Schrager, who exited South Beach’s hotel market when he stopped presiding over the Delano and The Shore Club, is on his way back with the purchase of the Riande Continental, next to The Shore Club, just six months after giving up his earlier hotel role. Schrager helped define the South Beach market with his Delano 11 years ago, and the Gansevoort and W are following the trend he set for stark and stylish boutique hotels on the Beach. The question is what Ian is going to do with the $100-a-night Riande. Some believe he will spend the money to renovate it and convert it into a competitor to the Delano (average room $482) and The Shore Club (average room $345). But most of those close to him think he
will pursue a condo-hotel conversion of the 251-room property. He previously tried that with The Shore Club but withdrew plans after squabbling with his partners. For the moment Ian isn’t talking, since he is in the SEC’s quiet period before Morgans Hotel Group, with which he has a consulting contract goes public next month.
But the Gansevoort and W have more than Schrager to worry about. Fifty-seven-year-old Philippe Starck, the designer who made his reputation largely by designing Schrager’s New York and Miami hotels a decade ago, is returning to the Beach, this time to design the Ritz Plaza, directly across the street from the Delano. The developers are Paul Makarechian, owner of a noted real-estate-development company in Newport Beach, California, and Sam Nazarian, a 30-year-old nightclub owner and movie producer best known for paying $125 million in 2004 for Jennifer Lopez’s Beverly Hills mansion (Nazarian’s father is the multibillionaire founder of chip maker Qualcomm). The Ritz will have, Makarechian says, an
updated version of Starck’s take on South Beach style. (That probably means less white and more warmth.)
Schrager actually had Starck sign a non-compete contract barring him from working in South Beach, but that has expired. Nazarian has used Starck on seven restaurants in Los Angeles, so the two have a good working relationship. Starck has promised that the Ritz Plaza will “be completely different” than the Delano.
The new owners of the 1940 hotel have filed preliminary drawings with Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board, offering a glimpse of what the new property will look like: The pool area is dominated by a three-story mirror towering over a teak deck, patios are draped in ivy, and the lobby has wood paneling, metal railings and fireplaces.
Ironically, Starwood had bought the Ritz Plaza, but Schrager successfully sued over the shadow the W’s large remake would cast on the Delano. The litigation tied up the property, and Starwood sold to Nazarian and Makarechian for $30 million. The pair is spending another $70 million in development costs.
A fight between the W and Gansevoort? No, it’s more like a free-for-all. The winner? South Beach, which becomes, with each major addition like one of these, even hotter.