Away from it all in the middle of it all: Resorts expand to cities

The Margaritaville resort in New York will have a 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar.
The Margaritaville resort in New York will have a 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar.

When Jimmy Buffett wrote the lyrics "strumming my six string on my front porch swing, smell those shrimp they're beginning to boil," he certainly didn't have midtown Manhattan in mind.

Even so, the beachy resort chain named for and inspired by his popular 1977 hit "Margaritaville" is betting its sun-splashed vibe will gain favor in the ultimate U.S. urban destination. Late last month, the chain announced it would open a 234-room hotel at the southern end of Times Square by late 2020.

"Within New York City, Times Square was always the destination that made the most sense," said Margaritaville Holdings CEO John Cohlan. "But we're really about walking into an environment that takes you away. If you walk into our Hollywood [Florida] lobby, it doesn't scream 'beach' at all. It's about relaxation, fun, something that's social."

The Orlando-based resort operator isn't unique among resorts specializing in natural settings looking to cities for expansion opportunities. Last month, Kerzner International Holdings' One&Only Resorts brand announced its Urban Resorts division with plans to open a hotel as part of Dubai's One Za'abeel mixed-use project in 2020.

Meanwhile, last October, Aman, which has long specialized in operating resorts in exotic locations across Europe, Asia and Africa, announced plans to open its first New York property in 2020.

Granted, both Margaritaville and Aman had previously made inroads to the urban market. Aman, which oversees 33 resorts worldwide, entered the competition in late 2014, when it opened its Tokyo property.

A guestroom rendering for the Margaritaville resort in New York.
A guestroom rendering for the Margaritaville resort in New York.

Margaritaville, which does not have a property north of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., broke ground on a 217-room hotel in Nashville's SoBro (South of Broadway) district, which it expects to open by late summer 2019.

New York's broad tourism appeal is reflected in the divergent approaches taken by Margaritaville and Aman there. The new Margaritaville, which will be on Seventh Avenue at the former site of a Parsons School of Design building, will have a Margaritaville Restaurant, a 5 o'Clock Somewhere Bar and a rooftop LandShark Bar & Grill.

The Aman New York will be redeveloped out of New York's Crown Building near Central Park. The property, which will have 83 rooms and 20 luxury residences, will feature luxury amenities like a two-story "sky" lobby and the Garden Terrace restaurant on the building's 10th floor. The hotel's five-story penthouse will have indoor and outdoor pools, and a three-story spa will include an 80-foot indoor swimming pool flanked by double daybeds and fire pits.

Strategically, such hotels are an effective way to boost international brand recognition within the New York tourism sector, which has a high percentage of both inbound and outbound international travelers, said Mark VanStekelenburg, New York-based managing director at CBRE Hotels.

"New York continues to be one of the biggest outbound markets for luxury hotel usage," he said. "So if you can establish a foothold in New York City, it expands your awareness to those users dramatically."

Aman's New York resort is scheduled to open in 2020.
Aman's New York resort is scheduled to open in 2020.

VanStekelenburg also said that the Margaritaville and Aman properties will join a growing list of hotels whose developers are willing to invest in larger indoor-outdoor spaces, especially in or near midtown, that offer guests a more dynamic experience. For example, the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel opened in 2015 with an 8,000-square-foot rooftop deck with a retractable roof.

And last year, the Moxy Times Square opened with the city's largest all-season rooftop bar featuring "adults only" miniature golf.

All of which leaves Margaritaville Holdings' Cohlan confident that there will be enough prospective guests with a previous association with the brand through its resorts or restaurants to fill the hotel.

"There are Parrotheads everywhere," he said, using the nickname for devout Jimmy Buffett fans. "Everyone talks about 'lifestyle hotels,' but we really do mean it."


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