After long wait, Brickell-area Aloft opens

The brand new Aloft Miami-Brickell — home of comic-inspired decor, pulsing music and a pool table by the entrance — already has a long history.

First intended to be an 88-unit apartment complex when construction started in 2007, the project stalled in 2008 when the recession hit the housing market hard. A change in plans called for a hotel instead of residences, but construction stopped for years.

HES Group LLC bought a 50 percent stake in the project in 2010, making it a joint venture with original builder Sunview Companies, and eventually got financing lined up so construction could start again in early 2012.

Friday, the 160-room property at 1001 SW Second Avenue was finally up and running and ready for guests. And general manager Humberto Fermo was happy about the timing.

“We are feeling very confident because Brickell is doing so well, and I’m confident that we are going to do very, very well in the near future,” said Fermo, chief operating officer of HES Management and Services. “Brickell is the place that everything is happening right now.”

Stationed a couple blocks west of Mary Brickell Village, the hotel is targeting visitors with business in the financial district and other parts of downtown Miami. Catering to young business travelers, the Aloft brand is known for “style at a steal” that features colorful design, free high-speed Wi-Fi and a bar that’s meant to generate buzz.

Fermo said he expects average rates to start at about $160 initially. A search for a room next weekend shows $175 a night as the cheapest option.

Developed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, whose other brands include St. Regis, W, Westin and Sheraton, Aloft is meant to resemble the costlier W brand — and it’s proven a popular concept with developers. The first Aloft hotel opened in 2008; today, there are more than 70 around the world with at least another 43 already on the books through 2019.

One of those will be in Miami Beach, set to open by December 2014. And Fermo said his group, which has a hospitality background in Venezuela, is working on plans to break ground early next year on another Aloft in Coral Gables and a Brickell-area Hotel Indigo, an InterContinental Hotels Group brand. Those will also be joint ventures with Sunview Companies, which is owned by Pedro Villar.

Scott Smith, Atlanta-based senior vice president of PKF Consulting, said select-service brands such as Courtyard by Marriott, Hilton Garden Inn or Aloft are “continuing to fill a need for that price category for people that don’t really need the full-service restaurant and meeting space.”

Those projects, he added, are much easier to get financed because they cost less than full-service hotels.

Hotel companies started to dream up lower-priced versions of hip lifestyle hotels just as the recession hit, said Scott Berman, who heads up hospitality and leisure at PwC in Miami.

Today’s expansion of such hotels are continuing a trend that started years back, he said.

“Obviously the recession and the lack of available capital to fund their development stunted their growth,” Berman said. “And so what’s happened is we’ve had this delayed reaction as more of these hotels have come online.”

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