Upscale hotel chain eyes project at Dupont Plaza site
By Susan Stabley
The owner of the stylish W Hotels chain is in talks with developers planning to build two towers at the Dupont Plaza site, a company official said Thursday.
The Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. official said a deal hasn't been signed and he couldn't disclose details but said the plan is "the worst-kept secret in town."
When asked Thursday about a deal, Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton asked in response if one had been announced officially.
Lionstone Hotels & Resorts and Miami developer Ugo Colombo of CMC Group want to replace the crumbling 1950s-era structure at 300 Biscayne Blvd. with two buildings connected by a walkway housing retail, condos and a hotel.
Mr. Colombo could not be reached. A representative of CMC Group would not confirm negotiations, saying nothing is final.
According to Lodging Econometrics - a Portsmith, NH, company that tracks hotel real estate investments - the W chain is a contemporary, high-end line.
Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Hotel & the Beaches Hotel Association, said W Hotels are boutique-style lodgings and would compete with Four Seasons Hotel, JW Marriott, the Conrad and Mandarin Oriental, all in nearby Brickell.
Starwood also owns the Weston, Sheraton, Four Points and St. Regis flags. The company has five W Hotels in New York, where the brand has its headquarters, and 22 are open or have been announced worldwide.
It is building a W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale - a $220 million, two-tower project with 346 rooms and 171 residential units at 435 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. There are no other W Hotels in Florida.
Starwood had eyed the Ritz Plaza Hotel at 1701 Collins Ave. next to the Delano Hotel. The company planned in 2001 to convert the Ritz into a W. But the Starwood official said the plan was dropped when the company decided the Miami Beach location would be too difficult to develop because of permitting regulations.
At the Dupont site, Lionstone had considered building a Marriott, according to Lodging Econometrics.
Demolition of Dupont Plaza, at the mouth of the Miami River, is expected soon. All tenants were out of the building by March 31. Miami-Dade County's Shoreline Review Committee approved plans for the site April 1, but the project still needs approval from Miami commissioners. They are scheduled to consider a major use special permit for the project today (4/22).
As recently as January, Diego Lowenstein of Miami-based Lionstone said his company had considered rehabilitating the Dupont hotel, office and retail complex but decided that would be too costly and the market would no longer support a hotel there.
According to Mr. Blumberg, tourism has rebounded and recent bed-tax figures have "achieved pre-9/11 levels."
Mr. Winton said recent hotel-occupancy figures "bode well from a timing standpoint for the project."
W Hotels would have an impact on a new customer base and increase the level of services people can get in the community, Mr. Winton said. "I think it's fabulous," he said, pointing out that Miami didn't have a five-star hotel as recently as five years ago.
He said W would fill another niche in Miami. "The more diversity we have, the more choices, the better off we are."