Loews property captures past glamour, snares guests

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MIAMI BEACH -- After completing its inaugural winter season as the first hotel tower to rise on Miami Beach in 30 years, the 800-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel looks as if it had been here for more than half a century. For city fathers who helped fund the $135 million project, that is a compliment. The Art Deco design of the 18-story white tower, with its cylindrical dome, was selected from a half-dozen competing designs because it would best fit in with the nearby Art Deco hotels. The property incorporates the adjoining 100-room St. Moritz Hotel, which was restored to its original 1930 architectural splendor.

The Loews, which opened Dec. 24, staged a charity ball March 6 for 2,600, evoking the kind of glamour evident here more than 40 years ago, when the Tisch family (owners of Loews Hotels) opened the Americana in Bal Harbour (now a Sheraton).

Guests at the Loews have included Billy Joel, Sean Connery, Francis Ford Coppola, and Mick Jagger and his band. At press time, the hotel was also in preparation to act as the headquarters hotel for the Travel Industry AssociationÆs Pow Wow, set for mid-May.

The property is courting two markets: leisure travelers seeking a superior boutique hotel on South Beach and business clientele needing a full-service, state-of-the-art meetings hotel in a resort setting. Urban preservationists are happy with the new tower because it avoids the fortress effect of many contemporary Collins Avenue resorts. Even its 800-car parking tower across the street has a charming cafe and fashion boutiques. The Loews, with 900 linear feet of beachfront, enjoys a choice location, at Collins Avenue and 16th Street, within walking distance of the Art Deco boutique hotels on Ocean Drive to the south and the Miami Beach Convention Center, just north.

Jack Breisacher, director of sales and marketing, said the hotel has already fulfilled its mission of boosting meetings at the convention center, helping to double the number of citywide conventions slated for the facility in 1999. Even before the Loews opened, it spurred plans for other hotels in South Beach. Rising at the southern end of the island is a 270-room beachfront Marriott. Directly to the north, at the east end of Lincoln Road, the first Ritz-Carlton is planned for Miami Beach. Next door, a 420-room Crowne Plaza is going up, set to open next year. The new Loews has also helped accelerate the already fast-paced renovation of many hotels in Miami Beach.

The quality of the LoewsÆ physical plant and the dedication of its staff are helping to set higher standards in the area, Breisacher said. ôWe raised the bar,ö he added. The Loews rated a four-diamond award barely four months after opening.

To recruit the staff of almost 900, nearly 15,000 applicants were interviewed. Turnover has been minimal since the opening, he added. The careful planning has paid immediate dividends, Breisacher said, reporting that the Loews posted an occupancy rate above 80% this winter with an average nightly room rate exceeding $220.

The minimum rack rate for a standard room is $309 in winter; $169 in summer. During its first year, the propertyÆs occupancy rate is projected at more than 70%, with an average room rate topping $180, Breisacher said. Although the Loews is projected to book 70% of its guests for meetings and other group business, the surprise thus far is the strength of its FIT business, the executive reported.

ôVisitors from the Northeast who havenÆt been here in years are coming down,ö he said, ôand our international business is very strong.ö To accommodate the many children checking in, Loews installed a play area, ôSoBe Kids Camp,ö and hired four counselors.

Another prominent feature of the resort is its beach, more than 200 yards wide, complete with many cabanas and umbrellas. A stately avenue of palmetto trees extends between the new tower and the St. Moritz to an undulating, free-form swimming pool, providing a regal vista with a fountain at the end. Inside the tower, an airy lobby with an elegant tropical motif sports such congenial features as knots of sofa chairs, the SoBe Coffee Bar and the Hemisphere Lounge, a noteworthy cocktail bar that serves 240 kinds of martinis.

The check-in area is discreetly hidden from immediate view, graced by a sculptural wall with copper banana trees.

The 100-room St. Moritz has been deftly integrated with the new 700-room tower. The St. Moritz sports a 4,500-square-foot gym available to all guests as well as an elegant new Argentinian restaurant and bar. The lobby of the St. Moritz, with its terrazzo floor and Art Deco ambience, offers 1930s style and contemporary amenities, Breisacher said.

Balancing the traditional hospitality areas is an 85,000-square-foot meeting center. The tone is set with a winding stairway from the lobby, leading to a memorable sight at the entrance to the ballroom area: a contemporary and whimsical chandelier, in the form of a ceramic pineapple with glittering lights strung along the leaves. The centerpiece of the meeting area is the 28,000-square-foot American Ballroom, with a floor-to-ceiling picture window overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Guests have the option of staying in standard rooms or the 62 suites in addition to accommodations on the top three concierge floors, which feature a bilevel concierge lounge with panoramic ocean and bay views.

In a city noted for its wide array of restaurants, the Loews is seeking to remain competitive with area dining outlets. Two formal restaurants are the elegant Gaucho Room and Bar, featuring Argentinian beef, and PrestonÆs, offering contemporary, bistro-style dining with an open kitchen.

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