In the early days of the economic slump, Sam Nazarian stood at a crossroads and considered the future.
Those roads were Collins Avenue and 17th Street in Miami Beach. And, in mid-2008, the future looked bleak for the old Ritz Plaza hotel that Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Nazarian and his family had purchased four years earlier.
“There were a lot of people that actually advised me to walk away,” said Nazarian, founder, chairman and CEO of the hospitality, real estate and entertainment company sbe. “In 2008, when every crane had stopped, everyone was saying: ‘Listen, Miami’s not coming back.’”
But following years of back-and-forth with a historic preservation board, an infusion of new investor cash, successful construction financing, a resurgence in Miami’s tourism business and the growth of sbe to include multiple restaurants and clubs, Nazarian and his team see better things in store.
“It’s not just like having a baby, but it’s like trying for a baby for seven years and now you’re having the baby,” Nazarian said.
SLS Hotel South Beach, a mix of Art Deco glamour and California cool at 1701 Collins Ave., opens to the public Thursday boasting 140 rooms, two high-profile restaurants, two celebrity designers, a pair of pools — and a giant version of a rubber duck.
“I’m always a little bit jaded about hotel openings but I’m genuinely truly, truly excited about this one,” said Juliana Shallcross, L.A.-based managing editor of hotel review and news site HotelChatter.com. “I can’t wait to see what they do with it because they have so much going on in one property.”
Including the initial purchase price, the cost of the project is $80-$85 million, Nazarian said. His family owns the property with CIM Group.
While South Beach will be just the second SLS hotel after Beverly Hills, one in New York is slated to open in 2013, and a Las Vegas property is set to follow in 2014. Apart from the SLS hotel, the company has Hyde Lounge clubs in California and Las Vegas; one is also planned for AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. This will be the second location for The Bazaar by James Beard award-winning chef José Andrés and the eighth Katsuya, from sushi chef Katsuya Uechi; both are sbe brands.
Designed by Philippe Starck of Delano fame, the South Beach hotel is all over the whimsical map: Outside, tiles are placed to look like casually tossed throw rugs. The reception area is summer camp-chic, with a rustic oak check-in desk, a light fixture made of a wooden kayak and framed camp photos on the wall. A giant octopus-looking chandelier made of shells dominates one of the restaurants. Cozy rooms have a French feel, with white sofas, wall coverings that look like pencil sketches and pops of pale pink.
Musician, actor and designer Lenny Kravitz, who has his own design firm, created a bungalow and penthouse suite for the property.
The hotel includes the original 1939 building by architect L. Murray Dixon as well as an additional building in the back, which houses 10 villas, the Hyde Beach lounge and six bungalows. Hotel guests have their own pool, and Hyde Beach — with access for non-guests — sits closer to the beach.
Shallcross said the one question mark for the hotel will be the rooms, which are fairly small even by South Beach standards. Rates for opening weekend start at $375 a night, though a small discount is available for paying with an American Express card.