The Dean of Green

Cambean Hospitality's Brian Scheinblum raises South Beach's environmental stakes.

The Cambean Vibe

When I visited in January, the Clifton was a work in progress. The old sign was still in place, as mandated by the city's powerful historic preservation committee, and the exterior had been preserved and updated. The "terrazzo" wall in the lobby, which Scheinblum and his partners had wanted to eliminate, was there, too. But the hotel was far from ready for occupancy, so Cambean put me up in the Nash, a 54-room property of similar vintage. My stay gave me clues to the Cambean approach.

My third-floor mini-suite was compact but felt spacious. It's the kind of lodging that tells you why people come to South Beach: to revel in cool and be seen. It had a front room with an L-shaped sofa, a desk with easy-access plugs, good Wi-Fi and the de rigueur ergonomic chair.

The flat-screen television above the desk was cool, as was its sibling in the bedroom, just off the front room; low lighting bracketed the king-size bed on the spare wooden platform. A full-length mirror faced the bed, enhancing the feeling of spaciousness. The bedroom area also contained a deco-styled, Nash-branded clock. The bathroom, unusually large for a South Beach boutique hotel, had a largely glassed-in shower, a long sink, a low-flow toilet and matte-tiled walls. The ambience was cool, comforting and ultramodern, the textures honed to soothe.

According to Scheinblum, the same partners own Cambean hotels, with LLCs for each property. Besides the Clifton and Nash, they are the 49-room Majestic and the 67-room Carlton, which also offers a large pool.

"The only way to have these be complementary and have the same amenities is to be managed together," he says. "We didn't see flags as the future for South Beach." With traditionally high occupancy and ADR, he says, Cambean didn't see the need for a chain loyalty program or reservation system.

Besides, the Cambeans can sell each other, says Scheinblum, particularly now that the collection features an Ocean Drive hotel, the Majestic. Scheinblum imagines a conversation ensuing from a stay at, say, the Clifton: "A couple comes down, has a great time, the wife says, next time, why don't we stay on the beach?"

Staying Green - and Local

Although Scheinblum has never worked in a hotel, the field "has always been sort of a hobby of mine," he says. "My background is really as a real estate developer. The opportunity presented itself. The timing was right when we bought the property here." He's speaking of the Carlton, which Cambean bought in 2006.

The Clifton is special, as it exemplifies "something I hold dear: the environment, sustainability, renewable resources — things I have had a great focus on personally, (as have) my wife and the rest of my family."

Getting his partners onto the bandwagon wasn't that easy; these philanthropic businessmen were skeptical of costs involved in greening the Clifton, as mandated by the city's historic preservation committee. "It took trust," Scheinblum says. And money. While he won't say what was spent on the Clifton, a traditional renovation could have saved 30 percent.

"If I wasn't doing LEED on this building, I wouldn't have done as much demolition or changed every system," he says. "This is a model project for Miami Beach. We're looking at this not just to have a LEED property to put in our portfolio. We're looking at this project as something to educate people. And costs are going to come down.

"If any of the surveys are true, that people are willing to pay 15 to 20 percent more for a green hotel stay, there's a benefit," Scheinblum says. "Today's economy may make things a little more difficult, but there are obviously some opportunities."

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