Refit National Hotel relishes its Preferred status

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MIAMI BEACH -- With a $3 million renovation behind it and coveted membership in the Preferred Hotels and Resorts Worldwide consortium framing its future, South Beach's National Hotel has all the clout it needs to go up against the big guys while maintaining the allure of independence.

"It's always a battle with the flags as an independent," said the hotel's general manager, Jeff Lehman. "But there is always a market that prefers an independent hotel.

"The upscale, entrepreneurial client is reluctant to stay in a chain. People like to find a hotel, feel like they found it and it's their place."

Designed by architect Roy France, the 151-room National Hotel opened in 1940. The Krause family, which also owns the Palms Hotel in South Beach, purchased it in 1996.

The National Hotel's 205-foot infinity pool is said to be the largest in the Miami Beach area. As the art-deco district's newfound celebrity was transforming the neighborhood, the National Hotel cut itself a niche by holding to the traditional values of South Beach while undergoing a major renovation in 1997.

"[The Krauses] said, 'This is going to be true [to the traditional art-deco style],' " said Lehman. "Instead of renovation, it became a restoration."

That $17 million restoration was directed by architect Gail Baldwin and interior designer Colleen Lake. It earned a Hall of Fame Award from the Miami Design Preservation League, and the Dade Heritage Trust Preservation Award for Excellence in Art Deco Preservation.

"We were not trying to be slick and cool," said Lehman. "We were trying to create a great, classic hospitality. That's what the National has done. That's what it's known for."

But in the following years, with chains like Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Crowne Plaza and Loews moving in to partake of the South Beach boom, the National was challenged even more to find a strong niche for itself and maintain visibility among a crowd of giants.

"We realized we had to develop a very high-end product, even higher than we opened with," Lehman said.

It was the decision to shoot for membership in the exclusive Preferred Hotels consortium that sent the Krauses back to the drawing board for the latest, $3 million renovation, this time under the recommendations of Preferred Hotels.

To qualify for the brand of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, a hotel must live up to a quality-assurance program that includes anonymous, annual, third-party audits based on a list of 1,600 standards and practices.

"It's a group of independent hotels that competes with Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton or Fairmont," said Lehman.

The highlight of the 2003 renovation was the addition of a three-floor penthouse suite called the Triplex.

Patrick Kennedy, who designed the interior of the National's sister property, the Palms, led the remodeling of the penthouse.

The result is a three-bedroom, three-story living space beginning on the 11th floor, which is the top floor of the hotel's main tower, and extending up into the two floors of the penthouse structure.

Two of the bedrooms are on the 11th floor. The 12th floor houses a living room, dining room, office, bathroom and a full kitchen, with all Jenair appliances. The living room has a 50-inch, plasma-screen TV with surround-sound speakers built into the ceiling.

The third floor of the Triplex is a junior suite in itself. It includes the master bedroom, a living room and a wet bar.

The master bedroom also has a surround-sound TV system with a screen mounted on a bracket so it can be turned for viewing from the bathtub.

The lower bedrooms and the second-floor living room have city views. The top floor has an ocean view with waist-to-ceiling windows and a telescope.

Hotel guest rooms also were redone. They now offer 27-inch, flat-screen TVs with DVD players and VCRs, two phones and free high-speed Internet access.

City View rooms begin at $380 a night through May 30, then drop to $270 for the summer months. Ocean Front rooms begin at $430 ($300 in summer). Cabana Wing rooms begin at $480 ($350 in summer).

Suites range from $800 for a one-bedroom to $3,000 for the three-bedroom penthouse suite. Summer rates apply for suites, as well.

All prices are per person, double occupancy. Bookings are commissionable at 10%. For reservations and information, call (800) 327-8370 or visit www.nationalhotel.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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