The mid-century landmark had problems for years – and that was before Hurricane Irma. But now, new owners have plans.

About two years ago, a new owner took over the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina. Tavistock Development Co. paid about $163 million for the 53-year-old example of mid-century-modern architecture with a cylindrical tower topped by a halo of spires.

Less than a year after Tavistock bought the hotel and marina, the venerable property took a big hit from Hurricane Irma. All 150 guest rooms in the tower are still closed.
But the company’s longer-term plan to renovate and redevelop Pier Sixty-Six appears on track.

The new owner of the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina at 2301 SE 17th St. also has acquired the Sails Marina property across the street and plans to develop both as a single 32-acre property with hundreds of new residential units.

Fort Lauderdale city commissioners in July approved an agreement with Tavistock for a development project that would renovate the hotel, add 575 residential units and create a pedestrian-friendly link with the Sails Marina. The development agreement requires Tavistock to submit site plans by January.

“Our number one priority is to get that hotel in operation and up to date. In the tower, we’ve got a lot of rooms sitting there empty,” says Tavistock senior director Jessi Blakley. Pier Sixty-Six has a total of 384 guest rooms, including 234 more in a cluster of low-rise buildings that remain open and 150 in the tower that have been closed since Hurricane Irma in September 2017. “Those 150 rooms have not reopened, and we do not plan to reopen them until we have our larger development plan in place,” Blakley says.

During Hurricane Irma, “a portion of the tower’s roof sustained some damage, and water came into the building,” she says. “We’ve obviously done a lot of remediation to get all of the water intrusion out. But we have not at this time invested anything in remodeling or redesigning the interior spaces of the tower yet.”

Soon after the start of 2018, Tavistock reopened the hotel’s meeting rooms. The company also reopened the Pier Top, a rotating restaurant at the top of the tower, for Sunday brunch once a month.

The monthly Pier Top brunch service started soon after Tavistock bought Pier Sixty-Six from New York-based private equity firm Blackstone Group in December 2016.Tavistock then bought the Sails Marina for $24 million. Blakley says the brunch service is “indicative of what we’d like to do as we think through the redevelopment of the entire property.”

Months before Fort Lauderdale approved its development agreement with Tavistock, the company started working with city staff to get an agreeable deal in front of city commissioners. Blakley was part of a Tavistock team that worked with city staff to revise a draft agreement in which the company originally proposed a Pier Sixty-Six project with 750 residential units and 15,000 square feet of new commercial space. The company’s draft agreement also called for the establishment of a community development district, which raises funding for public projects from developers.

But the development agreement that city commissioners approved on July 10 has fewer residences, 575, and omits prior references to a community development district and commercial space. “Those are certainly things we can revisit as we go through design review and future development,” Blakley says. “We just feel we didn’t need it at that time.”

Among other elements, Tavistock’s development deal with the city envisions a pedestrian walkway that would link Pier Sixty-Six and Sails Marina beneath the east end of the 17th Street Causeway bridge, on land now owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

“I think that could make a real place-making difference there,” says John Wijtenburg, Boca Raton-based vice president of commercial real estate brokerage Colliers International. “They [Pier Sixty-Six] are not quite a beach hotel, and they’re not quite an airport hotel. They’re kind of the middle. If they can create a sense of destination, it would have a significant impact on the success of the hotel.”

Wijtenburg sees an opportunity for Tavistock to provide restaurants and other public spaces that appeal to locals who own homes near Pier Sixty-Six: “There’s an affluent community right there, Harbor Beach,” and the company could “create amenities that bring them to this location, rather than going to the beach or to Las Olas downtown.”

A major draw at Pier Sixty-Six is its marina, which measured 3,000 linear feet and is now 5,000 linear feet after the addition of the Sails Marina property. Blackstone Group, the New York-based private equity firm that sold Pier Sixty-Six to Tavistock, “put a significant amount of investment in that marina. So that marina is exceptional,” Wijtenburg says. “It’s a great asset for them.”

The Colliers International vice president also says Tavistock is “the right kind of buyer to create a special place there” because the Pier Sixty-Six acquisition is a family investment led by Joe Lewis, a British billionaire who owns Tavistock.

“There’s no pressure on the timing of the investment. So, they can really take their time and get an optimal return,” Wijtenburg says. “Some of these private equity players are stuck in a seven- to 10-year [investment] window. This one may not be seven to 10 years. It may be longer.”

The local marine industry also is optimistic about the new ownership at Pier Sixty-Six, one of seven sites where the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is staged.

Lewis, the billionaire owner of Tavistock, owns one yacht over 300 feet long and another that measures about 250 feet, says Phil Purcell, president and CEO of Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“The nice thing about Joe Lewis, he’s a big boater … So, he likes our industry, he understands our industry,” Purcell says. “And having him as the owner of the property, we’ve made some good inroads in terms of future plans” for the annual boat show.

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