Renovated, reborn Shelborne ready to reopen on Miami Beach

The iconic Shelborne hotel in Miami Beach is about to reopen after going through the process of renovation. This is a look at the Library lounge not far from the lobby entrance.
The iconic Shelborne hotel in Miami Beach is about to reopen after going through the process of renovation. This is a look at the Library lounge not far from the lobby entrance. Miami Herald Staff

Nearly three years after it got a facelift, the historic Shelborne on South Beach will reopen Wednesday following a full-body transformation.

The $90 million project touched just about every part of the 200-room property, now the Shelborne Wyndham Grand, at 1801 Collins Ave.

Upgrades include a new high-profile restaurant, Morimoto South Beach; completely redone guest rooms; an apothecary-themed “drawing room” where the historic lobby once stood; a transformed entrance; more meeting space, and a new spa.

“I think that people are going to see that this is a night and day transformation of the property,” said Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, president of Flag Luxury Group, one of the owners of the hotel. Kanavos and her team oversaw the renovation, which closed the hotel for more than a year.

Back in 2011, a $15 million renovation was supposed to bring the hotel — long known as a party destination — to a more mature level. The lobby, outside entrance and some rooms got a new look; restaurants and retail spaces were added.

But the renovation didn’t get quite the traction the owners, the Galbut family of Miami Beach, had been hoping for.

“The hotel, I don’t think, ever reached its full potential under what we did in the previous renovations,” said Jared Galbut, one of the family members and a hotelier. “It was such an iconic property that I think after the last renovation, we realized we needed to go full steam and renovate the entire property to realize the true value.”

Kanavos knew developer Russell Galbut — another of the family members who own the hotel — through the advisory board at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. He mentioned that he was trying to figure out what to do with the Shelborne and knew Kanavos, whose company developed and co-owns the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach had experience in breathing new life into properties.

Flag Luxury looked at the possibilities and realized that one of the big issues was inconsistent room quality. Because many of the units were individually owned condos, guests might end up in a newly redecorated room or an older, shabby one.

In a partnership, Flag Luxury, the Galbut family and a real estate investment trust spent nearly $200 million to buy every available condo unit. Fewer than 50 units are individually owned now; those are not available to be rented as hotel rooms unless they undergo the full renovation.

“It was a great opportunity to offer a much more upscale room product that really competes with the luxury product out there and at the same time marry that with a great lifestyle product and energy experience that customers are willing to pay for nowadays,” Kanavos said.

Some two-story townhouse units that the partners purchased turned out to be covering old columns that had previously made the original lobby a standout. As part of the new design, those columns and high ceilings are once again a focal point in what is now the drawing room.

“This Art Deco district is a really important district in America’s history,” Kanavos said. “We really felt passionate about doing a restoration that’s true and authentic and real and not just for the value of commerce.”

There were upgrades as well to features that are not visible: “mechanical, electrical, plumbing, new everything,” said Jared Galbut, managing principal of Menin Hospitality, which owns several hotels in Miami Beach.

The hotel’s new look is rich and warm, with gold accents and dramatic lighting features in public spaces that were designed by Meg Sharpe. Richard Mishaandesigned the guest rooms with a nod to vintage cars, seen in the glossy lacquer on the doors and leather headboards.

Suzanne Amaducci-Adams, head of the hospitality practice group at Bilzin Sumberg, said the latest life for the Shelborne shows how rapidly things are changing on Miami Beach and in the county. More than 3,000 new hotel rooms are on tap in the near future.

“People are going to be going to the latest and greatest thing,” she said. “So you need to keep competitive with the the latest and greatest thing.”

The people behind the hotel are hoping that this time, the work will pay off.

Jonathan Torres, marketing manager for the property, said rooms are expected to go for $495-$550 a night during the high season and about $350 a night for low season. More than 15,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space is meant to draw corporate incentive travel, and the first big event — a charity fundraiser — is already planned for this weekend.

For the family that has owned the hotel for decades, the latest changes are nostalgic but welcome.

“I don’t think we’re ever letting her go; she’s been in the family since I was 2 years old,” said Jared Galbut, now 32. “I’ve probably gone through five renovations of that property. It’s about the money but it’s not about the money: It’s something that’s just really special for us to always have.”

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