In its heyday, the Escape, which opened in 1951, helped to launch Fort Lauderdale as a tourist destination, and developers are betting its restoration will fuel further development. The vacant hotel at 2900 Riomar St. and adjoining empty land are set to be redeveloped as the Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences through a joint venture partnership between Fort Lauderdale-based Merrimac Ventures and Miami’s Newgard Development Group.
The roughly $120 million project will feature a remodeled 96-room hotel and adjacent 128-unit condominium. Construction is expected to begin this summer with completion targeted for end of 2016. The hotel and condominium are scheduled to open by the first quarter of 2017. “For me it’s exciting because it’s a property I used to ride my bike around as a kid, and now I get to revitalize it and kind of relive a bit of its history,” Dev Motwani, president of Merrimac Ventures, said Tuesday at an event introducing the project to the community and real estate brokers.
The Escape was the first tropical-style resort hotel to be built in the late 1940s by George “Bob” Gill Jr., who became known as Broward County’s father of hospitality. Back then; the Escape was the first on the beach with a swimming pool and the first to stay open year-round. It also offered tennis courts and a nine-hotel pitch and putt golf course, and it’s popular bar and lounge brought in celebrity entertainment of the day.
Gill later built the Jolly Roger, Clipper and Trader hotels, which over the decades have been transformed into modern hotels and accommodations along the beachfront strip. The Escape closed 30 years ago and has been vacant for more than a decade after a stint in the 1980s as Tiffany House, an assisted living facility.
The neighborhood around the old hotel has been a hotbed of redevelopment in recent years, spearheaded mainly by Swedish developer Par Sanda. Sanda’s investment group bought dozens of buildings and lots there and invested more than $80 million to remodel and redevelop them into the European-style North Beach village.
Others have since followed suit and more new developments are on tap in the area and along the beachfront such as the 95-unit Paramount Fort Lauderdale Beach and the 290-unit Ocean Resort Residences managed by Conrad Hotels & Resorts.
“We love the vibe and feel of Fort Lauderdale beach,” said Juan Pedro San Martin, Newgard’s vice president of development. “It’s an incredible site in a quaint and upcoming village, and we felt this is just the right place to do it.” Menin Hospitality of Miami Beach, whose South Florida portfolio includes the Gale South Beach hotel, Sanctuary South Beach and The Bentley South Beach, will manage the hospitality components of the new Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences.
Menin also has properties in Chicago and owns and operates several restaurants and entertainment-related properties in both cities. On choosing Menin as a partner, Motwani said the similarities in histories of Gale South Beach and the Escape couldn’t be ignored. “The [South Beach] hotel turned into an assisted living facility then was shuttered for many years and then reborn as the Gale. That’s the same exact story for the Escape.” Fort Lauderdale also was missing an independent boutique brand such Gale, which has a “life and spirit of its own,” Motwani said.
The existing Escape building will undergo a top-to-bottom renovation to become the Gale, whose rooms and suites will feature stylish interiors, sleek furnishings and design elements from Gale South Beach, which opened in 2012. “The Gale Fort Lauderdale’s aesthetic and ambiance will echo the sexy, sophisticated persona we’ve introduced at the Gale South Beach while paying homage to Fort Lauderdale beach’s history as a resort town,” Keith Menin, principal of Menin Hospitality, said in a statement announcing the project.
The 12-story condominium building next door will offer one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences with views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway and downtown Fort Lauderdale. Prices for the units start at $385,000, and sales are being managed by Newgard Realty. The fully finished residences will include gourmet kitchens, spa-style bathrooms and walk-in closets. Plans also include adding street-level retail space to serve Gale Fort Lauderdale customers, residents and the surrounding neighborhood.