By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore Magazine
If you’re heading to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show Nov. 1-5, you’ll no doubt notice the new design and landscaping at its home base, the historic Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach – a DoubleTree by Hilton. The iconic hotel is just finishing up a $7.5 million refurbishment project designed to reflect Fort Lauderdale’s nautical lifestyle and provide a suitable home for the world’s largest in-water yachting and boating exhibition.
The project included the renovation of 181 of the hotel’s 296 guest rooms, as well as a redesign of the common areas and meeting spaces. The original plans were expanded to include exterior improvements such as new awnings, lounge chairs, pavers and cabanas at the pool.
“We’re trying to improve the overall experience for our guests,” says Jimmy Tate, chief executive officer of Tate Capital and a partner in Rahn Bahia Mar LLC, the operator of the Bahia Mar. “Although it’s a DoubleTree, we want guests to feel like they’re living the lap of luxury.”
The 181 guest rooms were “stripped down to the core,” Tate says, and now boast new custom carpets, dressers, desks, paint, mirrors and lights, all in a blue and white color scheme. “We wanted a clean, fresh nautical look,” he says.
The lobby was also freshened up, and the second floor of the hotel — which features a ballroom and meeting space — was renovated. A $50,000 chandelier with cascading strands of glass shards showcases the atrium, and a sea life-inspired chandelier serves as a focal point in the ballroom. Some floors were damaged by Irma in September, and also had to be cleaned and restored.
In addition to the Bahia Mar’s redesign and new landscaping, there is an innovative new food and beverage program, with a menu of rotating specialty drinks as well as a Bahia Mar signature cocktail. Menus for the property’s restaurants have been revamped as well, and new programming and events for guests will debut in the fall.
All improvements to the hotel will be completed before the boat show opens on Nov. 1. Ultimately, however, the hotel will be torn down and a new hotel constructed on the property as part of a major redevelopment plan in the works for the 40-acre site.
“A lot of people asked, ‘Why are you throwing good money after bad,’” Tate says. “But we don’t look at it that way. We look at it as putting good money after good because it’s important that we show our guests that we appreciate their patronage and that we want them to have a great experience at the hotel.”
The long-term redevelopment plan, which has not yet been approved by local governmental authorities, comes after the operators of the Bahia Mar signed a 30-year lease extension with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the owner of the boat show; and Informa Exhibitions, the manager and producer, to host the show through 2050. The new lease also has two 10-year extension options, allowing for up to 50 years in place.
Established in 1959, the show has grown to seven locations and more than 3 million square feet of space, including the Bahia Mar, five additional marinas and the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.
Tate says that the master plan for redevelopment proposes seven residential buildings as well as commercial space that will include a grocery store and offices and commercial use for the marina industry. He also proposes a “marina village,” a boardwalk and four restaurants. Tate hopes to start construction in late 2018, after the boat show, or early 2019. The project is expected to take seven to eight years to complete.
IF YOU GO
58th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the world’s largest in-water boat show, with nearly 1,500 boats on display, Nov. 1-5. The event features boating equipment for sale, fishing clinics, workshops, music, food and floating cocktail lounges across seven venues. 800-940-7642, flibs.com.