On a beachfront predisposed to wrecking and rebuilding, the landmarked Escape Hotel, designed in 1949 by Theo A. Meyer and Lester Avery, proves to be an obstinate exception. The first hotel developed by Fort Lauderdale pioneer, George Gill Jr., the Escape was granted historic status in 2004. Since then, its face has been unknown – as its prime location on a full block in North Beach Village became the target of various owners and developers – until it was purchased by real estate investor Dev Motwani, of Merrimac Ventures in 2010. Motwani, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, is sensitive to the area’s architectural heritage but was determined to bring something special and worthwhile to Fort Lauderdale Beach. His recent partnership with Newgard Development Group promises to do just that.
Set to open in late 2016, the Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences will occupy the former Escape Hotel as Fort Lauderdale’s newest luxury destination. Newgard promises a top-to-bottom renovation for the 96 hotel rooms, including design elements brought in from its California cool sister hotel, The Gale South Beach, which underwent a $35 million renovation in 2012. Next door, a new 12-story building housing 128 units will round out the “residences” portion of the development. Featuring one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans, the condos will range in size from 780 square feet to 2,000 square feet with price points starting in the $300,000s.
On the heels of the project’s approval from the City Commission, Tropic sits down with Motwani and Harvey Hernandez, chairman and managing director at Newgard, to discuss this unique blend of old and new in North Beach Village.
TROPIC: The parallels between this project and the Gale South Beach are startlingly similar: both structures have rich, colorful histories. And soon, the Gale in Fort Lauderdale will join the Gale South Beach and a beautifully renovated boutique hotel. Tell me what else you hope to bring from your experience in South Beach.
Motwani: As both markets have experienced similar histories, so have these buildings. Both opened as hotels, were eventually converted to senior housing/assisted living facilities, and then shuttered for many years before being revived. The story has played itself through with the opening of the Gale South Beach, and we are excited about completing the same transformation with the Gale Fort Lauderdale.
Hernandez: The social element is key to what we are doing. The Gale is known for that on South Beach, with the rooftop pool area and a great bar called the Regent. We have other exciting concepts in the works for the Gale Fort Lauderdale that will allow for a vibrant and energetic mix of locals, guest and visitors alike.
You have selected Menin to run the hotel portion. How did this three-way collaboration come about?
Motwani: I was originally introduced to Harvey to discuss another project of mine, and I quickly realized he was the right partner for the Escape. I’ve always been a fan of what Menin has done with their projects in Miami Beach, so when Harvey suggested him as our hotel partner, it was the final piece to a great team and partnership.
This project will include two separate towers: a boutique hotel and a residential tower. How will you differentiate between public spaces for hotel guests and private spaces for residents?
Hernandez: Hotel guests and residents will each have their own exclusive entrances and private spaces, but we will have a shared rooftop space where both will be free to mingle. This gives residents a place to relax, while giving hotel guests more of a local feel.
What are your overall objectives for this project and how does it fit in with the general direction of beach development?
Motwani: I literally grew up on the beach just a few blocks from the site. I’ve seen North Beach Village as it went through a decline, sat stagnant for many years, and its recent resurgence. We have seen great new developments along the beachfront, but the neighborhood behind that beach hasn’t seen much activity. The Gale takes that neighborhood to a new level in terms of design and amenities, and shows the type of quality and exciting development that’s now possible in the area.
The concepts for the interiors are beautiful. Who is on board for the interior design aspect of the project?
Hernandez: We’ve selected a local firm called Urban Robot, which has had incredible success in bringing a modern and elegant feel to historic properties – like the Kaskades and The Bently in Miami Beach – while maintaining their original essence.
The structure is one of the only historically designated buildings on Fort Lauderdale Beach. How did this affect the project?
Motwani: When I originally purchased the property, the approved plan was to convert the existing building to condos. As I researched the property and its history, I quickly realized the historic aspect of the property wasn’t just the building, it was also the fact that The Escape Hotel really helped develop Fort Lauderdale as a year-round tourist destination. I felt strongly that reintroducing the hotel component was critical to the project – a change embraced by the local preservation community as well as the neighborhood.
It’s refreshing to see new development on the beach priced from the $300,000s. How did you decide on price point and size of residences?
Hernandez: A great project at a great value is something all buyers seek. We saw an underserved market of both local and international buyers who want to own a piece of the action and are interested in being close to the beach, but don’t necessarily want or need such large units.