Report from the ground
The original Morris Lapidus-designed hotel - the famous concave Chateau building as well as the equally imposing Versailles building have been gutted and stripped down to their structural supports. All that remains - it is a truly dramatic sight, peering into the windows and seeing just beams - is the lobby. Here the original marble floors (formerly covered by carpeting) featuring a bowtie motif, as well as original marble columns, have been restored. The remaining complex will be completely redesigned and rebuilt. These two buildings will feature standard guest rooms. At the base of these buildings is a new construction project buzzing along: a 40,000 square foot spa with 33 treatment rooms (heck why stop there) and restaurant complex. All this is scheduled to open June 2008.
This would be a monumental undertaking. And it's just half the picture. The new 410 all-suite hotel I stayed in - totally luxe by the way - is being paired with a new 286-unit all-suite tower to be completed November this year.
While renovations are underway and all this takes shape, the new Tower will remain open. I stayed here last night in room 2312. The views facing south are some of the most remarkable I've seen in Miami, reminiscent of an urban highrise, which is something you don't expect on the beach. You're perched high above Miami Beach (the tower is 36 stories; I was on the 23rd floor), looking south from 44th street: all of South Beach, the intercoastal, a prtial ocean n dbeach view, downtown in the distance, and neighborhoods of Miami to the west open before you. It's a captivating view, and looks as great at night.
With fully equipped kitchens, including dishwasher, microwave, large refrigerators, oven, toaster; as well as dining table, desk, two large flat screens, suites here resemble contemporary luxury apartments. Two comfortable chairs are paired with ottomans. Bathrooms feature deep Jacuzzi tubs, and spacious rooms with bidet. These are easily among the best bathrooms on the market. Beds and linens are top of the line.
The real question is whether you want to stay here with so much noise and construction going on. The main lagoon pool will be demolished right after the Super Bowl (here, as everywhere I've been, there are no rooms available that weekend). You'll have to settle for a small pool on the 7th floor. The beach here is small. More is being brought in this year. So while the suites are excellent; construction is very real, and will continue into next year.
Pool Scene to Come
The pool - recently re-done by Hilton - and restaurant is being demolished next month to make way for new state-of the-art restaurant and horizon pool complexes. The main pool will have a signature cabana island. Renderings propose a gorgeous, sleek, upscale aquatic complex in the high Delano style.
Where to Eat
The new hotel will have 11 restaurants, three of them named, star-chef restaurants. The developers plan a nightclub called Pure, and the whole is to be a vibrant, high-energy venue. Concentration on lighting is said to be handled by James Turrell, who will create half a dozen lighting scenarios through out the day for the front desk and other points in the resort. A team of seven designers is creating looks for the various components.
Fontainebleau Heads to Vegas?
When the largely residential development company Turnberry constructed the Fontainebleau Tower in 2005, it bought out the entire complex as well. The previous owner had run the Fontainebleau under Hilton's flag for 30 years. Then under the rubrik Fontainebleau Resorts, Turnberry selected an executive team from Mandalay Bay, who decided to make Fontainebleau an international brand, and to use this new construction project as the flagship for a future Fontainebleau identity.
Thus the planned Fontainebleau Las Vegas scheduled to debut in 2009. Up to a dozen more are being conceived for major gateway cities including New York, and San Francisco. A plans of couse will hinge on the success of this titan Miami Beach project.
Hope for the Future
The bet on the Fontainebleau complex is that people come to Miami Beach to see and be seen, and they'll get to do it all right here. The old Fontainebleau was the center of the resort universe, and it kept movie stars coming here for years. The hope is that people will want to do their people watching with say, 2,000 other people at the pool. That Ocean Drive is a headache, and that one big classy resort will become a Miami Beach microcosm, and a beacon.
No to be outdone, the Fontainebleau's next door neighbor, Eden Roc has similar plans up its sleeve. I took a tour of the Eden Roc this morning, and learned that the hotel will close in April, and re-open in November. A new complex will completely change the look and feel of the aging hotel. A new tower will be built and the pool re-done, and it will debut in 2008.
So will mid-beach become the new South Beach? That's certainly the plan for some developers. And is 20 blocks really such a stretch? We should know the answer by Art Basel 2008.
I'm checking out of the Fontainebleau now and heading across town to Coral Gables to see what's up at the gorgeous Biltmore. I'll tell all tomorrow.