Auberge Beach Residences has been a little something different for everybody involved.
For the Mitchell family that owned Ireland’s Inn, the hotel that previously occupied the land – and who remain involved as partners in the current project – the demolition and development obviously meant massive changes. For project leader and Miami-based development giant The Related Group, Auberge meant the sort of luxury that hadn’t always been associated with Broward.
For Auberge Resorts, a luxury resort company with properties everywhere from Napa Valley to the Greek isles to Fiji, this was a first foray into a residential-only development. (The project was originally slated to have a resort hotel component as well, but dropping that was one of the changes that happened along the way.) And for Fort Lauderdale, Auberge represented a major new step in a city’s reinvention as a luxury destination.
Now, after more than a decade of debate, economic flux and construction, Auberge is a reality. One of its residential towers is sold out; the other is expected to be fully sold by the end of the year. Two amenities for residents and non-residents alike, Restaurant Dune and the Spa at Auberge Beach, are proving popular. For the people behind the project, Auberge has been a long road – but the destination has been worth it.
“In a sense the dream has become a reality for all of us,” Related vice president Patrick Campbell says. “It’s an enormously successful project. To have actually taken it from the bare bones of the development that had been approved in 2008 before the market turned and to mold that into what became Auberge, it’s rewarding and exciting and fulfilling at the same time.
“We set out to elevate the experience of Fort Lauderdale by bringing an Auberge brand to the site; we’ve been successful in that.”
For Campbell, much of the project’s success starts with one unique factor – five acres of beachfront property in Fort Lauderdale. But it also took time and debate to figure out the best way to use the space. One of the biggest decisions was to forgo a resort component and make the development entirely into residential condos. “We really thought Fort Lauderdale, especially in that area of the beach, was more about home,” Campbell says.
That was something different for Auberge, but Campbell says the project has two things going for it. One, Auberge founder Mark Harmon and Related CEO and chairman Jorge Pérez had met years earlier and wanted to work with each other. “That in itself sets itself up for success,” Campbell says.
The other big advantage: the property itself.
“If it was any other site, it might have been a different discussion, especially in Fort Lauderdale,” Campbell says. “The breathtaking nature of the site, and who we are … reassured them that it was going to be spectacular.
“We had talked in the beginning about doing a small boutique (hotel) portion of it. Yes it was a leap of faith on their part, but the ideas and ideals of both companies melded together.”
Meanwhile, Related was also taking leaps of faith. If Auberge knows worldwide luxury, The Related Group knows South Florida. That means they also knew that with this project, they’d be getting into the sort of high-end development historically more associated with a 305 area code.
“I do think it is an incubus for a level of luxury that Fort Lauderdale didn’t previously have,” Campbell says.
At the beginning they were showing dollar value in Fort Lauderdale vs. Miami – the historic trends and difference between the two that showed how much more Miami luxury developments have traditionally been worth. Their point was that this disparity can’t sustain itself forever – but they also knew they were getting into uncharted territory for Broward.
“Ourselves, we were not sure of the depths of the luxury market at those levels,” Campbell says.
When they actually started selling, they relaxed. Units in the south building went on the market first. “We were pleasantly surprised by the success of the south building,” Campbell says. “We tiptoed into the market and showed others that there is that market … deeper than we thought.”
So, does Auberge auger wider changes in the Fort Lauderdale luxury market? Yes and no, Campbell says. In one big way, it’s an entirely unique project. But in other ways, it’s proven what can be done.
“The fact that we have almost five acres on the ocean is almost unattainable anymore,” he says. “But I don’t think that you need to have five acres to have this level of luxury.”