Even now if one asks, ‘Within the city of Miami Beach, what is the most important landmark in the popular imagination?’ it would be the Fontainebleau. Can an icon of the past be restored to its former glory? According to the New York Times, new owners and architects of the Fontainebleau have invested $1 billion to buy and restore it in the conviction that it can.
Its original fusion of Modernist rigor and Hollywood chic, dreamed up by the maverick architect Morris Lapidus, was derided as Bronx baroque, until the singular style of Miami Beach was rediscovered by the Ian Schrager generation. “In its day in the ’50s and ’60s, the Fontainebleau was state of the art in glamour,” said Jeffrey Beers, the New York architect responsible for an extensive update of the interior. “We would like to restore that in spirit.”
When the refurbished resort is officially unveiled on November14 with a series of parties and a taping for television of a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, visitors will be able to judge for themselves if the mission succeeded. Even recently, as the hotel was still a construction site, it was clear that the old duchess had flounced out her skirts. “How many places like this can you go in America that are not in the desert?” said Jeffrey Soffer, executive chairman and majority partner of Fontainebleau Resorts, which is building a Fontainebleau in Las Vegas. Indeed, as he strolled the raised oceanfront walkway that overlooks the property, it was obvious the resort had much in common with over-the-top hotels on the Strip. Visible from the walkway is a pool complex fanning out across the lawns, and a new 40,000-square-foot glass-walled spa, its steam rooms and reflecting pools worthy of the emperor Hadrian. Crescent-shaped rows of cabanas edge the pools and echo the undulating outlines of the Chateau, the hotel’s original building.
Several towers, two of them new, flank the Chateau, for a combined 1,500 guest rooms, twice the number of the Fontainebleau’s largest competitor, Loews in South Beach. There are also shops, 11 restaurants and lounges, and about 200,000 square feet of meeting and convention space – all sprawling over 22 acres. The three-year renovation was conceived, in part, to lure back fashionable crowds, which have drifted down to South Beach. With renovated rooms from $399 and suites from $509, the Fontainebleau is reopening at a challenging time for tourism. Hotel occupancy rates in Miami-Dade County were down by 6 percent in September from a year earlier, and room revenues fell by 4 percent, said John Lancet, a senior executive in Miami for HVS, a national hotel consulting company. But Mr. Lancet viewed the Fontainebleau development as only mildly risky. “It is my impression that the owners went through adequate planning so that the risk could be mitigated,” he said. At the hub of the resort is the Chateau’s 45,000-square-foot lobby, an elaboration on the original freeform elliptical shape completed by Lapidus in 1954. The hotel has some $30 million in bookings through early next year, said Howard C. Karawan, the chief operating officer of Fontainebleau Resorts, who was brought in by the new owners to oversee renovations and operations for the company. Rumors are widespread that the $500 million face-lift was made in anticipation that the city would legalize casino gambling. The developers deny this, and gambling has yet to win acceptance with local lawmakers.