Changing out an existing hotel when it has grown tired but is still beloved by its local community and loyal patrons is never an easy task. Challenges and upsets abound. Now layer onto this scenario the need for the newly refreshed hotel to represent the first of a series of unique, ‘single-brand’ lodging experiences, complete with iconic design and amenities.
That, in a nutshell— better make that seashell— is what’s happening to the Sea Turtle Inn in Atlantic Beach, FL.
Built on the beachfront in the early 1970s, the 193-room property is slowly morphing into One Ocean Resort Hotel and Spa via a $24 million renovation. It will be the flagship property of Dallas, TX-based ownership/management company Remington Hotel Corp.’s recently carved luxury subdivision, The Gallery, which ultimately will umbrella a group of authentic destination resorts whose focus is to make guests feel “in their element.”
The Sea Turtle Inn was a logical start for Remington’s The Gallery launch. Owned by lodging REIT Ashford Hospitality Trust, Remington’s sister company, the hotel is on the beach “and was nowhere near reaching its potential,” said Mark Sharkey, Remington’s COO. “It was low-hanging fruit. It was the easiest, the quickest hotel to convert to this luxury product.”
The Gallery concept will seek to entice guests to areas where they can immerse themselves in their surroundings and have their hotel be a seamless part of that experience. “Always in Your Element” is the collection’s promise to guests, who will encounter a variety of luxury offerings, including full-service spas and fitness centers, golf courses, fine dining, regional cuisine as well as casual fare, and what Remington refers to as “intuitive service.”
A key thread running through each of the properties, and from which the umbrella group derives its name, will be a gallery of photographic artwork, that, along with other artwork, will decorate the guestrooms, spa, restaurants and lobby of each of The Gallery resorts. Noted lifestyle photographer Greg Whitaker has been commissioned by Remington to shoot original works for the group, the first of which will appear at One Ocean.
Long the site of area weddings, community social events and special occasions, the Sea Turtle Inn is open as the renovation progresses. It officially will emerge as One Ocean— it’s located at One Ocean Blvd.— at the property’s reopening, which is slated for Jan. 1.
“This is THE hotel in town and we’ve had such great support,” said Sharkey. “I have never seen that much support for a hotel to undergo such renovation and repositioning as I have with this community. They are just crazy about this.”
“This” is the total revamp of the hotel, in itself an anomaly of what Remington envisions for The Gallery portfolio. “Most of our plan is to build new luxury hotels; the conversions are just quicker in order to get this thing kicked off,” said the COO.
However, faster in this case by no means translated to overlooking quality of design. Although it has its own design department, Remington this time brought in award-winning design firm Leo A Daly based in Omaha, NE. The firm helped conceptualize the hotel’s transformation from what the designers deemed “tired, drab and dated” to special and unique.
Insisting that the property needed to be true to its surroundings, Sharkey stressed the design and palette needed not just to speak but “to scream” the beach, but in a very sophisticated and elegant manner. “We needed design to come first” before cutting corners and cost, he noted, adding the company would value-engineer on its projects when appropriate.
According to Patricia Miller, vp/corporate director of hospitality for Leo A Daly, the design team and Remington have been very much in tandem on the project. “We always listen to what the owners are trying to achieve. Some owners don’t have a real clear vision of what they’re looking for; we help them find that. In this case, Remington and Mark Sharkey had a really clear vision. For him it was building a luxury brand. Even though it’s only one project, he’s looking to the future,” she said, adding her firm and Remington have worked together on other renovation projects, such as the Tangerine Restaurant at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront in Florida (see sidebar on page 10), but found this one particularly attractive in terms of its individuality.
While the design firm is charged with delivering on all sections of the hotel, the public spaces, spa, restaurant, bar, meeting rooms, etc., the redesign of the guestrooms is closest to being completed. At press time, 46 guestrooms facing the ocean are slated to be finished, with the North and South sides to follow.
The revamped rooms go into inventory as completed and that’s always a challenge, observed Sharkey. “There’s always the guest who says: ‘I want the new rooms,’” he said, acknowledging guests “hate” the whole renovation process in general and that the effort has affected business. “A hotel under renovation is a hotel that’s certainly being challenged. Meeting planners will tell you: ‘Call me when you’re done.’”
Getting “done” started with a model room. It was built to see how the design captured the vision of all involved. Sharkey reported there has been scant deviation from the original. Some exceptions include choosing a closed instead of open closet system, narrowing the television chest, and refining some cabinetry.
The guestrooms are done in soothing tones. Shell-motif lamps highlight the casegoods. Underfoot, subtle wave patterns are seen in the tufted, nylon carpeting and the marble tile in the entryway looks like crushed seashells. The framed headboard wall is rendered in a softly lighted, cool blue Venetian plaster offset by gray drapery panels and crown moulding, with golden sunburst mirrors over the beds reflecting back into the room. Remington plans to use the mirrors as points of distinction in each hotel.
“We wanted to create that ‘wow’ factor,” said Lara Rimes, senior interior designer for the One Ocean project. “It’s a beautiful guestroom, especially at night. Very inviting.”
“The color palette’s very soothing. Very reminiscent of the ocean, the sand, the shells and the sky,” observed Miller, with colors such as sand, aqua and pearl used.
The guest bathroom features a shell-like sink on a glass-top vanity with light-strip mirrors. Shower curtains have images akin to protozoa in the sea. Instead of just a closet with doors, there’s a wardrobe area with built-ins.
While still in process, Miller said part of the lobby design will meet Remington’s call for a VIP area, where select guests will be able to check in/out, have a concierge arrange reservations for the restaurants or spa and help them with any requests. The lobby walls also will feature a custom mother-of-pearl wallcovering in soft aqua tones, said Rimes, noting the flooring in the lobby is mostly stone.
In considering photography as a way to set The Gallery portfolio apart, Sharkey saw the endeavor as a way to convey luxury immediately. “I wanted our photography to stand out from everybody else’s. I did not want the same kind of shot of the hotel from the freeway…I wanted people to look at it and go: ‘Wow. That’s luxury. That’s art,’” said the COO.
In addition to Whitaker’s work, each property will sponsor local photographers whose work will be displayed onsite. Photography workshops and lessons will also be offered to guests. “I want to express our level of luxury through art,” said Sharkey.
He also emphasized the company doesn’t want a hotel so themed that it becomes an “attraction;” rather he wants the property to fit in and look natural in its environment. Remington plans to also remain concerned for the indigenous settings many of The Gallery portfolio properties will have. “We think we’ve been ‘green’ forever. We’ve always been and always will be very sensitive to making sure we find ways to conserve and save and be friendly to the environment.”
Another aspect of The Gallery portfolio will be adjunct real estate development. Known for managing upscale and upper-upscale properties in the U.S., Sharkey said the leap to luxury resorts was based on Remington’s continuing desire to grow. “About two years ago we asked ourselves where we were going to grow and decided luxury with mixed-use components.” While not currently available at One Ocean, The Gallery will offer resort-ownership options at select properties where feasible.
“Luxury is now financially viable to actually build and to operate because you are selling some real estate as a part of that…we’ve always wanted to be in luxury; this real estate component has now made that feasible,” said Sharkey. The resort-ownership model would put the units into a hotel inventory pool program when they are not in use by owners. “We call it hassle-free, second-home ownership,” he said.
Sharkey said Remington would have more of an ownership stake regarding The Gallery portfolio, with partnerships a probability for the individual properties. The company is looking to have a presence in California, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Hawaii, Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico. There currently are properties in pre-development in Turks and Caicos and Bend, OR.
“We’re very good at managing upscale and upper-upscale hotels, but it’s going to take another set of skills to do this luxury [segment] and we will continue to hire for that,” said Sharkey, who is heading the new subdivision.