Is 1 Hotel South Beach Really Ready to Open?

It was just before 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 when the fire alarm in my building went off. I’ve become anesthetized to the racket. The whooping alarm, a normal occurrence for months, due in large part to the construction of the adjacent 1 Hotel South Beach (2341 Collins Ave., South Beach; 866-615-1111), a project that after nearly three years in the making finally opened its doors to hotel guests that day. 

Billing itself as a new luxury lifestyle brand celebrating nature with an eco-driven mission, the South Beach location marks the group’s debut under Starwood Capital Group’s new SH Group. Two more 1 Hotels are set to open in New York City at Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park by year’s end. SH also manages Baccarat Hotels & Resorts, which debuted earlier in March in New York City.

Usually the crescendo of fire alarm bells ends with the announcement of, “This is just a test.” But the voice over the intercom (for the first time in the four years that I’ve lived here), informed us that it was not a test and to exit the building. He had to say it a second time for it to sink in, and I gathered my dog, threw my laptop, iPhone and camera into my purse, and headed to the nearest stairwell to begin my descent from the 11th floor. 

The 17-story, white stucco behemoth with blue glass balconies stretches the entire oceanfront block from 23rd to 24th St. on Collins Ave. and houses both my condominium and the new hotel, over 1,100 units in all. I emerged at the corner of 23rd St. and Collins Ave. to see my neighbors flooding the sidewalks, as well. An employee of 1 Hotel instructed his team to head to the beach for roll call as I walked towards Collins to get a look at what was going on. Fire trucks were on the scene at the corner of 24th St. and there were no flames visible from my vantage point. 

Word quickly spread that the source of the fire was Beachcraft, Tom Colicchio’s restaurant slated to open with the hotel. The “small electrical fire” was contained quickly and there were no injuries, which a 1 Hotel spokesperson confirmed with the Miami Herald in a report published Wednesday morning.

Still, hotel guests and condominium residents were displaced until almost midnight, nearly five hours later. And as eager as I’ve been for the project to wrap, I couldn’t help but grumble to myself, “Is it really ready to open?” 

1 In The Making

I arrived the next morning to a press conference that proceeded as planned beneath the dramatic port cochere with its bushy, verdant 3,000 ft. vertical garden composed of 11,000 local, tropical plants emblazoned in LED lights with the signature “1.” A half dozen white Teslas were docked at their electric charging stations (this is eco-lux, remember). And while they managed to remove the caution tape around Beachcraft before the press arrived (Barry Sternlicht, Chairman & CEO of Starwood Capital Group, only referring to the fire as “an event” during his remarks), the restaurant’s opening is delayed until further notice.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Sternlicht, addressing the crowd. 

He acquired the property formerly known as the Gansevoort in February 2012 in partnership with development firm LeFrak. The hotel operated for a short time under Starwood Capital’s ownership as The Perry, an interim moniker, before closing in April 2013 to completely gut the property in preparation of 1. 

The three-year construction process also involved demolishing and rebuilding the balconies and redesigning the poolscapes, which now boast a total of four pools (previously three), including one rooftop. “We never knew exactly when it was going to open,” Sternlicht chortled with a touch of relief, standing suntanned and relaxed with a perfect, bright smile. 

I’ve witnessed the construction progress on a daily basis—from ear-splitting jackhammering to a false wall in my unit to brown water running through my faucets—and the opening day fire evacuation was only icing on the cake. But, as mid-March approached, astonishingly, the pool deck appeared to be coming together based on the view from my balcony. I also knew that the interiors were largely complete, having toured the condominium portion as far back as January 2014 and again during Art Basel in December of that year. 

However, by opening day, I also knew that the front lawn, stretching 600 linear feet across the length of the property, had not yet been landscaped. It was, instead, a massive sandpit jumbled with sundry detritus, chain link fence and a few new plantings. The gate fortifying the back of the property and its security system was not fully installed, camouflaged haphazardly by bamboo. And stairs descending from the elevated pool plaza to the beach were still unfinished. Worst of all, the length of 24th St. and the beach is still gated off today with forklifts and cranes in a construction zone.

Richard LeFrak, Chairman & CEO of LeFrak, didn’t mince words when he got to the podium, describing the building, which was originally erected in 1971, as a “lemon” and “very, very difficult to come to grips with” before transforming it into the “exquisite, beautiful hotel” you see today.

1 Hotel Today

As my tour of the hotel commenced, I was hopeful that those three years of hard labor paid off and eager to see the finished product. Starting with the high-ceilinged, sun-filled lobby, it’s appropriately luxurious with plush white, canvas couches and repurposed wooden accent furniture, and yes, it feels complete. Also in the lobby, an interactive gallery by Wynwood-based, terrarium-as-art shop Plant the Future. Their original terrariums are featured in every guest room, furthering the hotel’s eco aesthetic of “bringing the outside in.”

Rooftop Pool

Once the site of raucous, DJ-fueled parties during the Gansevoort’s heyday, 1 Hotel’s version is decidedly mature and mellowed out. Featuring copious white banquettes, cabanas and lounge chairs, the space is redesigned by Nikola Gradisinki of New York’s NGNY. Barstools, chairs and a prominently featured pool table are splashed in shades of blue, inspired by the ocean. 

A bar and grill helmed by executive chef Fernando Cruz dishes up Mediterranean-style cuisine. And the surrounding views of the beach and city are as stunning as ever. They’ll no doubt draw locals and hotel guests alike, blissfully soaking it all up.

Guest Rooms

Some of the prettiest and plushest rooms I’ve seen in Miami are found at 1. Extra large, averaging about 700-square-feet (and starting around $629 per night), it’s like you’re floating in a pillow-soft cloud with a palette of white, pale blue, natural wood and soft golden light. Executed beautifully by design firm Meyer Davis, the rooms immediately put you in Zen mode with their rustic-edged wooden tables, a gold coral sea fan printed on a wall and reclaimed Colorado beetle kill pine naturally dyed a cornflower blue from the insidious bugs. The bathrooms are equally inviting and oversized with soaking tubs, rainfall showers with peek-a-boo windows, trough sinks made of materials like Calcutta marble and teak wood.

In lowering their carbon footprint, they’ve installed Triple Clear Water filters in all taps to replace plastic bottles, a chic little chalkboard instead of paper and pen and a 1 Hotels Field Guide app in place of brochures. “We’re as much about what you see as what you’re not going to see in our hotels,” Sternlicht said. And they’ve taken a playful approach to conservation with hangers made of recycled paper labeled “homework” or “love letters” to indicate their source.

Main Pool

A 50,000-square-foot oasis anchored by Colicchio’s The Sand Box restaurant, the pool is situated on an elevated plaza in the center of the property, placing the pale-blue-aqua-green ocean at an entrancing eyelevel. Meyer Davis made great use of the dauntingly massive space utilizing Ipe wood from the property’s original boardwalk (now, paved beach walk) for a deck shaded by palm trees. Sand Box features an expansive recreational lounge in addition to casual dining with a ping-pong table situated atop, yes, sand. The large pool is designed with the optical illusion of daybeds floating at the surface like lily pads, and it’s lined with multiple cabanas and lounge chairs. A 40-seater Jacuzzi (not yet heated, hopefully soon!) is set off to the side. The cumulative effect is sublime. 

There’s also a secondary level with a long, skinny infinity pool, ultra cabanas (almost finished!) and an additional bar ideal for private events or simply more sunbathers. Then, there’s the south pool, which has its own massive deck that they’ve landscaped almost as cohesively as the main pool with AstroTurf, cabanas and seating areas in addition to the pool and its loungers. 

I spent the weekend at the main pool, eager to get a taste of what I can finally enjoy again as a resident here. I’m happy to report that it reminded me of why I stuck it out through three grueling years of construction. The view can’t be beat and the staff is well-trained, friendly and on point. They’re never too far away to offer up a menu, ice water and even complimentary (and divine) baked goodies throughout the day. 

The food at Sand Box is superb. It bodes well for what’s to come when Beachcraft opens. I enjoyed a well-balanced Bloody Mary made with what was clearly fresh ingredients, silky smooth guacamole and yucca-crusted lionfish tacos with black kale slaw, avocado and lemon aioli that were truly special.

“You know you’re saving the environment by ordering those,” my pool attendant said. 

Ah, yes, tacos made from an invasive (and very tasty) species threatening South Florida’s indigenous fisheries, a well-thought out menu item for a hotel priding itself in sustainability.

So, is 1 Hotel ready to open? 

Of course it is. And when heavyweights like Starwood Capital and LeFrak team up, pouring $500 million into a project, expectations are high. What they’ve completed thus far—rooftop, pools, rooms, some dining—they’ve knocked out of the park.

However, guests will have to wait before they get a finished product. So what’s left? Let’s start with that enormous front lawn slated to be a Beach Club by late summer 2015. There’s a Spartan Gym & Spa set for fall 2015, 1 Kitchen: Organic Food & Juice Bar for summer 2015 and a lot of vacant real estate to be filled at ground level. STK and Big Drop boutique have returned to the property and are currently the only tenants. Oh, and once they’ve repaired the damage from the electrical fire, Beachcraft will be up and running, too. If I’ve learned anything covering hotels in Miami for the last three years it’s that nothing is finished by the date predicted. For guests of 1 Hotel, that means the faint sounds of construction (I can hear that drill buzzing right now) and the annoyance of workers onsite are far from over for this property.

Hotels are supposed to be transporting experiences and that comes with attention to detail and a consistently spectacular product. There are still quite a few details that need ironing out at 1 Hotel South Beach. I have no doubt that when they are, this will be a hotel worth visiting time and again. And that time can’t come soon enough.

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