|By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami Herald|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 14, 2005 - For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Fontainebleau won't be a Hilton.
New owner Turnberry Associates plans on running the 1,400-room resort itself, saying the iconic Fontainebleau doesn't need the marketing muscle or name recognition of a major hotel brand like Hilton or Marriott.
"The Fontainebleau name is strong enough," said Philip Goldfarb, head of Turnberry's hotel division.
The decision will leave the region's largest resort without the global sales force, multimillion dollar marketing campaigns, loyalty programs and aggressive Internet presence that comes with a national hotel chain.
On the other hand, the Aventura-based company won't be burdened with a costly operating contract or risk having the storied Fontainebleau's image linked to a national brand's reputation.
It also could mark the first step in Turnberry's effort to turn Fontainebleau into a national hotel brand with its own following. In his first interview announcing the Fontainebleau purchase last month, Jeffrey Soffer hinted the company might open other Fontainebleaus, saying: "I think the Fontainebleau name has got tremendous legs to it. In fact we might be looking to continuing that on."
Soffer could not be reached for comment Monday evening. Goldfarb said the Fontainebleau will be the first resort Turnberry will operate itself, but "it won't be the last."
Turnberry is best known for a resort it no longer owns: Turnberry Isle in Aventura, which it sold in the 1990s. It currently owns and operates several Marriott-branded hotels in Aventura and Orlando and a high-end Hilton in Nashville.
Turnberry is building condo-hotel components for the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas and the Atlantis resort in Nassau, Bahamas, but it will not be operating them.
Current Fontainebleau owner Stephen Muss signed Hilton to run the hotel 1978 at a time when most major chains were steering clear of Miami Beach's reputation as a dreary retirement destination. His contract limits Hilton's ability to open other properties in the Miami Beach area, and those restrictions would evaporate once Turnberry takes over.
Fontainebleau executives notified resort workers Monday of Hilton's pending departure. The timing of the switch is still under negotiation. Turnberry's purchase of the Fontainebleau from Muss and his partners is scheduled for mid-March.
Soffer has promised $150 million in renovations to create a Las Vegas-style feel for the former Rat Pack hangout, with a hopping nightlife and big-name restaurants and entertainment.
Goldfarb declined to predict how Hilton's departure would impact the resort's payroll or whether any of the roughly 900 current workers would lose their jobs.
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