Jason Pomeranc, youngest son of New York developer Jack Pomeranc, has been lauded as a boutique hotel wunderkind since he and brothers Michael and Lawrence opened 60 Thompson in 2001 in a then little-visited corner of downtown Manhattan. Lifestyle brand Thompson Hotels was a hit, drawing celebs including Sienna Miller, Russell Crowe, Madonna and Jay Z to its rooftop decks and clubby bars in New York, L.A. and eventually, in 2014, in Miami Beach.
By then, Pomeranc had crossed to the north side of 40, and Thompson was no longer part of the family empire.
In October 2011, Thompson merged with California-based Joie de Vivre hotels to create the larger Commune company, with Pomeranc as its co-chairman. Less than two years later, Pomeranc, his brothers and longtime partner Stephen Brandman surprised the hip-hotel world by abruptly leaving, taking the original Thompson properties with them.
The name stayed behind. Pomeranc and partners created SIXTY Hotels, encompassing the original at 60 Thompson Street (now dubbed SIXTY Soho) and former Thompson hotels on the Lower East Side, Columbus Circle and in Beverly Hills.
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Last October, they opened SIXTY Nautilus at 1825 Collins Avenue, a 1950s Morris Lapidus-designed hotel gutted and renovated by Quadrum Global. Pomeranc and his SIXTY partners refashioned the 250-room property with artwork, pool area, programming and restaurant by Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli.
The follow is excerpted from interviews between Pomeranc and the Miami Herald.
Q: Why did you leave Commune?
A. My brothers and I built a company from nothing. Then did a corporate merger, and I was chairman of a company that had 50 hotels. I wasn’t really happy. I wanted to get back into doing the projects with my brothers and our partner, Stephen Brandman. It was hard for me to sell the brand that I was so integrally involved with but it was time to do it.
[Editors note: Brandman left the company shortly after this interview.]
Q: Why did you decide to take on Nautilus as a SIXTY hotel?
A. There are several factors that go into the desirability matrix of trying to do a project down here. This hotel had all of them.
It had location. Say what you will about how Miami is changing, at the end of the day, this is the eye of the storm of Miami. All the sizzle, we’re right in the middle of it.
Being an architectural buff, the idea of working on a Morris Lapidus and the historical element, as a hotelier . . . you really relish it.
And it had the bones for me to deploy my skill set. It had the size, public space-to-room ratio and beach area. I have a certain approach, along with my team and my partners, to how we activate a hotel. You need the drama, pool area, space for multiple food venues and enough rooms to keep it intimate but enough activation to keep it vibrant and interesting.
Q: With so many new hotels on Miami Beach, and in Miami proper, in recent years, how do you differentiate yours?
A. The consumer today in the lifestyle travel industry is very educated. Part of that is technology-driven. They know what places look like all over the world. There are no secrets anymore.
The image you try to portray is important. But you’re getting consumer reviews, real time photos of people staying there. It’s an equalized playing field.
There are really no original ideas anymore. There haven’t been for quite some time. Some tenants of hospitality go back to inns. Hotels just adapt and grow based on consumer tastes. To me, it’s really about the people who work here. We’re not a flag hotel, not a big chain hotel, and we don’t try to be. We’re trying to individualize each property and give each guest an experience that is earnest in the way that it is thought out and personalized by the hotelier, restaurateur, chef. That doesn’t make it seamless and perfect but makes it real. We make an emotional connection with the guest.
Sometimes that’s transparent, and sometimes it’s very subtle. You don’t always know that what’s playing is someone’s personal play list, or that the recipe came from someone’s grandmother. But I think that comes through.
Q: But don’t a lot of the big chains now emulate what we used to think of as “boutique hotel” style?
A. Yes. Big chains are taking the playbook that the hoteliers of the first wave of boutique hotels came up with in New York and Miami, and everybody else is just copying the playbook. In some cases they use corporate structure to make it better. Some will make it just bigger. What we’re really saying is that this is the new normal.
Q: In the 1990s, Miami Beach became synonymous with the Delano, the Raleigh and party culture. How has that changed?
A. This is now a global capital. I have this theory that there’s a global beach culture, a well-educated sophisticated audience going to all of these places all over the world. Local hoteliers in these places are seeing what everyone else is seeing. You’ve got Mykonos [in Greece] and Ibiza [in Spain] and it’s all coming together, but with a local spin on it.
Miami is that melting pot of all these Europeans and South Americans coming together to make the Miami culture. People say Miami has always done this. But Miami is a bigger place now, and the kind of wealth that is coming here is far beyond what it was before. There’s an earnestness to this economy. Before it was speculative.
Q: What does that mean for you as a hotelier?
A. There’s a very big change. Parents now want to be able to go to the same restaurants as their grown kids. It’s more of a psychographic. People don’t want to feel like they’re on a stage set or a a photo shoot.
The guest rooms are more comfortable. Things work. The beds work. The lights work. The rooms are bright. You can come here and have a softer experience [than in the party days]. It’s still sexy and sophisticated, but it’s comfortable.
It’s a very adult hotel, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many young families there are here.
Q: About 2,500 new hotel rooms opened this past year in Miami. That’s brought softer rates than in 2015, according to hospitality research firm STR. What’s your thought on that?
It’s an interesting time. People have said that Miami Beach is over-built, but it’s not true. The first time hotels are open, people want to try them all. You don’t build brand loyalty the first year. Then some people panic when things don’t go according to plan, and they lower rates. After a while everyone will start holding firm. It’s just the way the market moves.
Q: Miami Beach hotels really need local support, especially in the summer, to support their restaurants and bring in revenue. What are you doing to encourage locals to come here?
A. We place an emphasis on keeping locals happy. We have a special parking rate — $12 — or a $10 Uber credit with validation at our restaurants [the Cabana Club poolside and the Driftwood Room, indoors and on the terrace]. We’ve established price points on the menu so people want to eat here more than just on special occasions. We’ve added a Rosé Sundays theme pool party on Sundays that’s open to the public [with special prices on Rosé drinks] and yoga on weekend mornings. It’s an ongoing process. You have to tweak.
Q: You’ve been open 10 months. What tweaks have you made over that time?
A. We started out with a Mediterranean restaurant. Now we have a better grasp of the local palate and local ingredients, and we’ve veered in a more Florida direction. We’ve added a Katherine Bernhardt painting in our second pool; its bright, and a lot of children are drawn to it. We’re adding a new cabana structure with beefier cabanas and new lighting schemes in the pool area at night. We’re finishing our penthouses and larger suites.
One thing we did extraordinarily well, we used the pivotal Miami weekends to be impactful. We had a tent activation and other activities during Art Basel. We partnered with Artsy and the Depart Foundation, which supports super young cutting-edge artists. We’ll rotate [works from the Depart artists] this fall. We did something similar during Winter Music Conference and for Miami Swim Week.
Q: What are you most pleased with?
A. One thing we always get in feedback from people who stay here is about the staff. They write about how a particular person helped them when they lost their bag. One guy, his wife left her favorite whatever in the room, and someone from the staff jumped in a taxi and followed them to the airport to return it. When you balance that with the fact that you feel comfortable sleeping in a room here and you don’t feel like you’re yourself into a music video you don’t belong in, it helps.
Title: Co-owner, SIXTY Hotels
SIXTY Hotels: SIXTY Les, six Columbus and SIXTY Soho in New York; SIXTY Beverly Hills in Los Angeles; Nautilus in Miami Beach
Previous: Co-founded Thompson Hotels before its merge with Joie de Vivre Hotels forming Commune; served briefly as co-chairman of the joint company. Helped launch the Sagamore Hotel on Miami Beach in 2002.
Passions: Contemporary art, architecture and design. Serves on the board of the Depart Foundation, which supports young emerging artists.
Art at SIXTY Hotels: At the Nautilus, signature works include “Sharks and Sharpies,” an installation by Katherine Bernhardt in the shallow simming pool, and a long gallery showcasing works by Depart Foundation artists. During Art Basel Miami Beach, the hotel collaborated with Artsy and is planning art activations again this year. New York’s SIXTY Les features a Warhol Filmstrip in the pool bottom. New York’s SIXTY Soho includes William Klein’s “Smoke & Veil” and Harland Miller’s “The Next Life’s on Me.”