November 28, 2023
Upscale moves: Turning old hotels into swanky lodgings
The Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences will replace a vacant 1950s hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

Southeast Roundup

Upscale moves: Turning old hotels into swanky lodgings

Developers are turning old hotel sites into swanky lodging.

Mike Vogel | 4/28/2015

Dev Motwani’s start in the Fort Lauderdale beach hotel business came as a 6-year-old at the old Merrimac hotel his father bought in 1986. The family lived in rooms behind the front desk, and young Dev and his brother Nitin would pitch in as desk clerks when the hotel was short-handed.

Buying the Merrimac around the time the city collectively decided to dump spring break in favor of a family-oriented, upscale market, the Motwani family has helped shape the trajectory of the market ever since, a trajectory sloping sharply upward in the last two years.

Dev’s father, who died in 1994, assembled the block around the Merrimac into a site where a 290- unit Conrad hotel opens this year.

Dev Motwani’s Merrimac Ventures and Newgard Development are taking a vacant 1950s hotel and turning it into a hotel/condo with 96 hotel rooms and 128 condo units called Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences. Motwani is also a minority partner in Miami’s Fort Partners, which plans to turn a site with a couple of small hotels Motwani owns into a top-of-the-market 150-hotel room, 95-condo unit Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences. Older brother Nitin is part of the group developing a 95-unit Paramount condo tower on the site of an old Howard Johnson hotel.

Meanwhile, Miami’s Related Group and Fortune International are turning the former Ireland’s Inn hotel site into a 171-condo Auberge Beach Residences & Spa. Farther up the beach, Swedish-born investor Par Sanda is renovating small hotels in north beach.

A new wave of institutional and international money has discovered the market. Since July 2013, seven major beach hotels have changed hands for a total of $798 million, according to real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “What’s unique for Fort Lauderdale is the type of investor who has been going there the last 24 months,” says Gregory Rumpel, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle’s hotels and hospitality division.



The Mai-Kai in Oakland Park won a listing on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in commerce and entertainment. For locals and longtime visitors, the restaurant has been registering for decades. Opened by brothers Bob and Jack Thornton in 1956, it still evokes midcentury America with its Polynesian theme, tiki décor and Polynesian show.

The tropical drink menu hasn’t changed since 1956. Bob and his wife, Mireille, bought Jack out in 1970. Bob died in 1989. Mireille still owns the restaurant with her kids and partners, Kulani Gelardi and Dave Levy. Maitre d’ Angel Vera has been with the restaurant for 52 years; five employees have been there for more than 40. Annual revenue is $7 million, and it employs 155.


Fort Lauderdale health care technology company Intermedix appointed Joel Portice CEO, replacing company co-founder Doug Shamon, who is board chairman.

BBX Capital hired Raymond S. Lopez as CFO, succeeding John K. Grelle, who retired.

Business Briefs

BOCA RATON — Electronic medical records company Modernizing Medicine acquired Riverside, Calif.-based billing and practice management support company Aesyntix Health.

DAVIE — Nashville-based Pinnacle Financial Partners subsidiary Pinnacle Bank paid $75 million for a 30% interest in privately held Davie-based loan originator Bankers Healthcare Group. BHG, which placed eight times on Inc. magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies, had a pretax 2014 profit of $49 million on $98 million in revenue.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Virtualization software company Citrix plans to lay off 200 Fort Lauderdale employees. > David Boden, 53, of Hallandale Beach and a former attorney at the firm of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, received 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud conspiracy. > Charter Schools USA will add 73 jobs at its headquarters. Affordable housing developer Housing Trust Group finished building Village Place Apartments, a 112-unit senior affordable housing project, which opened fully leased. > Coral Gablesbased private passenger rail company All Aboard Florida chose Fort Lauderdale-based contractor Moss & Associates as general contractor for its Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations, each of which will be 60,000 square feet. > Broward commissioners voted to regulate ridesharing Uber and Lyft as taxi companies.

HOLLYWOOD — Heico acquired majority ownership of Netherlandsbased aircraft interior parts company Aeroworks International Holdings along with ownership of Arizona-based commercial aircraft accessory firm Harter Aerospace.

MIRAMAR — Kellstrom Defense Aerospace will add 20 jobs.

NORTH PALM BEACH — Edward Stack, chairman and CEO of Coraopolis, Pa.-based Dick’s Sporting Goods, bought a $12-million beachfront mansion.

PALM BEACH — Govic Capital, a wealth management and hedge fund firm, plans to hire up to eight as it establishes its headquarters here.

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Residential property insurer Olympus Insurance relocated from Orlando and is hiring 50.

PALM CITY — Turf chemicals company Custom Agronomics won a $3,100 trade grant through Enterprise Florida to exhibit at a European trade show for the turf industry.

POMPANO BEACH — Whole Foods opened a store. > Cavache Properties began work on a 21-townhouse project.

SUNRISE — Rick Case Automotive Group opened its Rick Case Kia dealership, which it says is the largest Kia dealership in the world.

VERO BEACH — Discovery Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” series will do segments on local manufacturers Piper Aircraft and Girard Equipment.

WELLINGTON — Real estate investor and Palm Beach Polo owner Glenn Straub bought Atlantic City’s Revel casino for $95.4 million in a bankruptcy court sale.

WEST PALM BEACH — Medical business holding company Medytox Solutions, with state incentives, will expand its headquarters, add 60 jobs and retain 40. Its principal business is clinical lab testing services. > Software concern My-Villages, a company that connects boat owners with maintenance services, opened a new headquarters.

Mortgage Friendly

Among southeast Florida counties, only Monroe (No. 10) made SmartAsset’s ranking of the 10 best Florida counties in which to get a mortgage, based on borrowing costs, ease of getting a mortgage, property taxes and loan payments.

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