South Beach’s Main Man: Alan Lieberman


 This hospitality group truly is hospitable, and in an affordable way that has caught the attention of celebs that are tired of the pretensions of some of the larger hotels that currently line the sand.

It’s a rainy Thursday afternoon in Miami’s South Beach. It’s not just a standard seasonal afternoon shower, either. It’s been coming down all day, the clouds thick and unmoving overhead. So Alan Lieberman is forced indoors.

Normally, one can find Lieberman conducting his business from the front porch of one of his boutique hotels. Lieberman, the head of the South Beach Group, a growing collection of Art Deco locales, doesn’t even have an office. “Each of my hotel managers has an office,” he says, “so should we need to conduct business, we can do it in there.” Otherwise, he would prefer to run his conglomerate from the various front porches where he can keep a watchful eye on South Beach’s bustling streets, all while taking in the vibe. All of his hotels have a front porch where he can sit, immersed in the scene that he knows and loves-and helped create. Lieberman’s hotels have been a fixture on South Beach for the past 10 years as the city has exploded into an international hot spot. Lieberman knows what it takes to create a lasting brand: innovation, outstanding marketing tactics, and an innate understanding of what attracts the customer, from constant parties and open bars to partnerships with the theater and art institutions. Chic designs don’t hurt either, and The South Beach Group’s portfolio is full of them, all courtesy of Lieberman himself who renovates his properties every three to five years.

It is almost time for a renovation of the Catalina, the group’s flagship at 1732 Collins Ave. Lieberman spends the majority of his time at that hotel, despite not having an office there, because the hotel has parking in front-it makes his life easier. Considering his expansive portfolio of hotels in South Beach, condominiums in Philadelphia, a multi-million dollar spec home in Aventura, and his ever-expanding art collection, not to mention various social and family obligations, it is no wonder he takes this small step to help simplify his busy life.

I am meeting him in the Catalina’s lobby for the interview and photo shoot. He’s late. Maybe it’s due to the rain; maybe it is the constant bombardment of other responsibilities. He offers no explanation when he arrives. He simply pulls into his parking spot, and comes in with his standard smile. He is wearing a green button-down, jeans, and his signature Converse with no laces. An easy outfit, reflective of a good life…A good life that was earned, not handed to him on a platter. Lieberman was not born with a silver spoon.

He tells me this while he is sitting in the chic white and red lobby, his feet up on the white bench, his personal art selections decorating the walls behind him, in front of him, and throughout the hotel. His hotels embody different personalities, each reflective of Lieberman’s creative mind. How does he constantly come up with fresh new designs that continually draw the crowds? “Because you die otherwise,” he says. “And it’s not a slow death.”

His hotels are alive with energy almost every night, and certainly on every sold-out weekend. His portfolio of South Beach properties began with the purchase of the Hotel Shelley at 844 Collins Ave., described as “South Beach’s take on a bed and breakfast.” Lieberman says that he purchased the Shelley in 1997 because he longed for a place where he could spend his time. Most people would have bought a pied-à-terre; Lieberman opted for a hotel. The portfolio rapidly expanded to include the Chesterfield Hotel Suites and Day Spa, the Lily Guesthouse, the Mercury Resort, the Whitelaw Hotel, the Chelsea Hotel, the Leon Hotel, the Metropole, and of course, the Catalina.

The Catalina Hotel & Beach Club has recently expanded to include three buildings with 200 rooms, two restaurants-Maxines and Kung Fu Sushi’s-a rooftop pool and Bamboo pool, zen garden, and multiple bars and lounges, all offering free happy hours every day to guests and locals alike. This hospitality group truly is hospitable, and in an affordable way that has caught the attention of celebs that are tired of the pretensions of some of the larger hotels that currently line the sand. Kevin Federline has a room on reserve when he jaunts to South Beach, and self-proclaimed first supermodel, Janice Dickenson, recently filmed episodes of her reality shows at the Catalina’s pool. Lieberman knows what he has to offer, and caters to the correct demographic. “We are solid three-star hotels. We are not on the water,” he says. “But we are booked solid every weekend of the year.”

He is currently working on expanding the South Beach Group to include an apartment-style hotel at 20th and Liberty, dubbed the Riviera. It will entail loft-style one-bedroom hotel rooms built from the ground up, a break from his usual mold of renovating Art Deco buildings. But the apartment-like hotel rooms are a style he is familiar with, as the Metropole’s 42 rooms are one-bedrooms, appealing to those in town for a longer stay. “We also have corporations that come down and use the rooms for interviews and movie castings,” he explains. The new location, which will entail three separate buildings, is the up-and-coming Collins Park neighborhood, in which the Gansevoort South just opened and the W that is projected to open in 2009. Lieberman’s boutique will give vacationers looking to stay in this neighborhood a moderately priced option with world-class service, chic amenities, and a prime location.

This is not to say he does not know and live in the lap of luxury. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a $15 million spec house in Bal Harbour and is always working on adding to his spectacular art collection. He has a penchant for fine art, and his expansive collection spills over from his Aventura home to the walls of his hotels.

His dedication to the arts also trickles over to his businesses, as his hotels enjoy a partnership with Art Basel every year. During the fair, the Catalina is cleared out of all of the furniture and turned into an exhibition space. Additionally, Catalina is the main sponsor for the Filmore at Jackie Gleason. Lieberman and his wife, Diane, the owner of the highly successful South Beach Investment Realty, are on the board at a number of cultural institutions, including the New World Symphony and the Museum of Contemporary Art– both of which Alan and Diane are major sponsors of.

He is a busy man, there is no doubt. But through his day-to-day travels, he keeps the promise he made to himself: South Beach is in fact his town.