By Mary Hladky
The new owner of the Boca Raton Resort & Club is planning a massive makeover of the iconic property.
In a frank admission that the 337-acre luxury resort has lost its luster, MSD Partners said in documents filed with the city that improvements are needed.
Despite renovations over the years, the resort “is not the global player in the luxury hotel market that it once was,” the company said in submissions filed by the Dunay, Miskel and Backman law firm. “Significant renovations internal to the building … improvements to the property and new world-class amenities are required to transform the property back to such a world-class resort.”
MSD Partners, formed by billionaire Michael S. Dell’s private investment firm, bought the resort last year for $875 million in Palm Beach County’s biggest-ever property deal.
While the planned changes will touch most parts of the resort, key elements include the demolition of the nearly 42,000-square-foot Great Hall and construction of a 10,000-square-foot Mizner Ballroom. The plans emphasize making better use of the resort’s location on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Built in 1969, the Great Hall is now dated, said John Tolbert, the resort’s president and managing director. What he and MSD Partners envision is the “most elegant” ballroom for all types of celebrations.
They also want to better connect members and guests to water views. “One of the most underutilized parts of the club is the 800 feet of waterfront,” he said.
Meeting and conference space will decrease, but “we will have better, more flexible and more relevant space,” he said, that is part of “revisioning our conference space for today’s market.”
The improvements “will allow us to have the foremost club and hotel and resort in the country,” he said.
Members of the city’s Community Appearance Board got their first look at the designs at their June 16 meeting.
Scott LaMont, principal of the planning and design firm EDSA, said the resort had “fallen behind” other resorts and that “we are trying to bring the resort back to its former glory.”
CAB members liked what they saw.
“I think you guys have done a crazy good thing,” Tiery Boykin told architects Jorge Garcia and Peter Stromberg of GarciaStromberg/GS4Studios in West Palm Beach. “I really like this project.”
Once the Great Hall is gone, its conference and meeting facilities would be relocated to the Mizner Ballroom, which will be located adjacent to the existing Mizner Center.
The Great Hall space would be redeveloped as a new luxury pool club and amenity area. The existing Flowrider wave simulator, slide, cafes and cabanas, now located north of the Great Hall, would relocate to this area.
The company also plans to upgrade the main resort entrance with new landscaping and add a new porte cochere, allowing improvements to valet service.
The Morimoto restaurant, which is open only to members and guests, will move and replace the existing Monkey Bar. The Lucca, Garden room and Palm Court restaurant area will be enhanced.
MSD Partners also plans renovations to hotel rooms and common areas.
The company’s plans were submitted to the city on May 12, and some of the changes will require city approval. The Planning and Zoning Board will review them on July 9 and will make a recommendation to the City Council. More presentations also will be made to the CAB.
A Fitch Ratings report one year ago said MSD Partners planned to invest $75 million over four years.
Tolbert said the cost of the project is still being calculated, but $75 million is the minimum. He said it would be “one of the most significant capital investments into a resort and club in the world.”
The project completion date is not yet set. Tolbert said the work would move forward as quickly as possible but will be done in a way that minimizes disruption to resort and club operations.
Tolbert, a high-profile member of the city’s business and philanthropic community, will depart in July after accepting an executive position with BRE Hotels & Resorts, Blackstone’s hospitality platform. An affiliate of Blackstone acquired the resort in 2004 and invested more than $300 million in the property before selling to Dell.
While the Fitch report described the resort as well maintained, it said the resort’s room revenues underperform those of its competitors, including PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, The Breakers in Palm Beach and Eau Palm Beach resort in Manalapan.
About 60% of the resort’s demand in 2018 came from meeting and group business, compared to 49% for the overall hotel market. Meeting and group bookings are at lower rates than leisure bookings.
That brought down overall room revenue. But the resort’s total revenue per available room in April 2019 was $620, “which is considered strong,” the report said.
The resort dates to 1926, when famed architect Addison Mizner opened the Cloister Inn on the shore of Lake Boca Raton.
It has since grown to 1,047 hotel rooms, two 18-hole golf courses, a 50,000-square-foot spa, seven swimming pools, 30 tennis courts, a 32-slip marina, 13 restaurants and bars and 200,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club partly reopened on June 4 with new safety protocols after the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of hotels and resorts in March.
While he is pleased with the number of people booking rooms, Tolbert said “our emphasis is on quality and luxury and not quantity at this time.”
Like other properties, the resort is offering incentives to lure back guests. Its website announces a “Your Summer Restored” package that offers a fourth night’s stay at no charge and a waiver of resort fees.