Positive economic signs taking shape in Fla.

The White Elephant Palm Beach, formerly the Bradley Park Hotel, is on track to open in September.
The White Elephant Palm Beach, formerly the Bradley Park Hotel, is on track to open in September.
Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

During the last economic downturn, analysts were constantly searching for "green shoots" of recovery that would show that a rebound from the devastating 2008-09 Great Recession was underway.

Going into the sixth month of extraordinary conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Florida hospitality firms are desperately looking for green shoots that might portend a return to more normal times.

It's hard to see much encouragement in the health statistics of the past few weeks, as new virus cases in Florida have skyrocketed, the rate of positive tests for Covid-19 has elevated, and the number of people dying of the disease has increased.

But I think one of the overlooked sources of optimism has been the continued opening of new Florida properties and attractions during the pandemic.

I've written recently about the handsome conversion of an old Sheraton Suites in Key West to the new Barbary Beach House, which opened in June.  Another such conversion in Palm Beach is on track to open in September.

There, the landmark 1924 Bradley Park Hotel is being revamped by Boston-based New England Development, which owns several hospitality assets on Nantucket Island, including one called the White Elephant.  When it reopens, the Bradley Park will become the White Elephant Palm Beach.

The four-story hotel will have 32 suites, with interiors decorated not in Lilly Pulitzer pink and green but in a subtly neutral palate. Outside, the Mizner-style facade will be painted a light, creamy-white color with classic black- and white-striped awnings.  A seven-foot sculpture of a white elephant will be installed on the grounds.

Another new hotel scheduled to open in November is the Moxy South Beach, a 202-room, eight-story hotel on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. It will be the first outpost for Marriott's urban lifestyle Moxy brand outside of New York.

In Gainesville, the new 173-room Hotel ELEO opened in June near the medical campus at the University of Florida, while in April the 238-room Hyatt Centric Las Olas hotel opened in Fort Lauderdale.

One of the things that tends to distinguish hotels opening during the pandemic is a multiyear development history.  Land for the Moxy, for example, was purchased in 2016, a $73 million financing package was obtained 2  years later, and groundbreaking followed a year after that in January 2019.

And it isn't only lodging that is pushing up green shoots in Florida.  In St. Petersburg, the new tourist pier in the works since 2010 was opened on July 6, after a five-week pandemic-related delay.

Also in July, the Golisano Children's Museum in Naples opened its new hands-on C'mon's Inventioneer's Lab, a learning playground for kids ages 7 to 14. And at the Universal Orlando Resort entertainment complex, the Bourne Stuntacular, a new show integrating stunts and special effects, made its debut in June despite the pandemic.

During the Great Recession, as the bottom seemed to drop out of the economy, it was hard to see the foundation of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history being laid. Similarly, it is hard to see the sunny side of Florida tourism now, but the newly opened properties and attractions of 2020 may point the way to better times.

This report was updated to correct the planned opening date for the Moxy South Beach, which is scheduled to open in November.


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