Riviera Redux: The South Beach Hotel Boom
BY tom austin
Photography by Claudia uribe
|The much-anticipated Surfcomber Miami-South Beach debuted in 2011|
Feeding into the revival on a lesser scale is the film and television industry’s recent love affair with the city. (During the first South Beach boom, fashion shoots helped fuel the revival—but when costs went up, the fashion industry moved on, to some extent.) Graham Winick, Miami Beach’s film and event production manager, has noted the positive trickle-down effect of Florida’s five-year, $242 million tax credit for productions shot in the state as a reason for the increased number of shoots around town. Miami’s economy still feeds on tourism. And no convention and visitors bureau could ever afford to buy an ad for Miami that’s as effective as, say, a season of The Glades or Burn Notice, with Miami’s tropical sensuality and allure serving as key elements in the production.
Cultural events have also boosted Miami’s cachet over the past decade. The city’s art bona fides were cemented with the success of Art Basel Miami Beach. The art fair in turn helped catalyze the scene in Wynwood and the development of the Design District, which hosts art installations and design exhibitions during the event. Aided by happenings like the Miami International Film Festival and electronic music happenings such as the Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival—all conducted in March—the demand for premium hotel rooms never slackens during high season, which runs between December and April. And a slew of summer events, such as August’s Brazilian Film Festival, will help fill rooms during the traditional slow season.
Along with the city’s new cultural texture, the visiting demographic has become more diverse, “with different age groups and interests,” says Pomeranc. “It’s not just about warm weather, young people, and nightclubs anymore.”
The future does seem bright, but the prospect of downtown casinos, entailing countless hotel rooms and a new convention center competing with the existing one on Miami Beach, also worries many hoteliers. Genting Malaysia, the largest casino operator in Southeast Asia and the United Kingdom, bought the waterfront Miami Herald property with a resort-casino complex in mind, later acquiring the Omni Center, as well. If gambling is approved by the state legislature, the Omni could be a temporary casino as early as this fall. (Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp. wants to open a downtown complex too, and Steve Wynn is eyeing the Miami Beach Convention Center as a possible casino site.)
Downtown Miami already looks a lot like Las Vegas, and its massive hotel properties (such as the JW Marriott Marquis Miami) appeal more to a corporate market. If the convention trade moves to downtown—along with the raucousness that’s inevitably tied to gambling—South Beach may return to the tone of its early days, attracting a more sophisticated, international set, as during Art Basel. If gambling indeed comes to South Beach, all bets are off.
Axel Gasser, regional general manager of Jordache Miami Sun Hotels (which operates the Hotel Breakwater South Beach), feels a fight between downtown Miami and South Beach is at hand: “This might be a chance to go back to the old times of South Beach, the original glamour of the Art Deco architecture and our beautiful beach. No matter what happens downtown, South Beach will always have an appeal that’s much more powerful. It can’t be beat.”