The Dean of Green

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

Brian Scheinblum's drive to turn a weary hotel belle in South Beach into a laboratory for the latest in environmentally sensitive operations has been lonely, but it seems he's no longer a voice in the wilderness. While change comes slowly in this trendy section of Miami Beach, being in the forefront of the green hotel movement may well pay off. In a city that puts a premium on appearance, the Hotel Clifton renovation goes far beyond facelift.

Scheinblum is the soft-spoken head of Cambean Hospitality, a collection of four South Beach hotels that total 205 rooms and share management and operational practices. He hopes the Clifton, the imminent star of the bunch and the only Cambean Earth property, kicks distinctively green butt starting mid-April, when the 35-room, 61-year-old Collins Avenue hotel reopens, potentially becoming the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified hotel in Florida and the first LEED-certified historic hotel in the country.

Cambean Earth is Scheinblum's environmental brand. A percentage of Cambean Earth room sale profits will go toward such projects as the Everglades Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving Florida's singular — and essential — habitat. Such partnerships speak to Scheinblum's philosophy.

So do sustainable hotel operations like high-efficiency, dual-flush toilets, low-flow faucets, heat recovery units, and, possibly, solar and wind power, all of which either figure in the Clifton — or will. “I believe there's a business model that can be successful while being a good steward of our planet,” Scheinblum said during an interview in early January. “In our energy modeling for the Clifton, we're going to end up with somewhere between 30- and 40-percent savings on energy cost, which will flow to the bottom line.

“The reason we chose the Clifton as our LEED project was very simple,” he says. “When we bought the property we knew we'd do a major renovation, but we decided to take the building all the way down to the shell and rebuild it as a sustainable property.”

Getting the City on Board

Scheinblum has been working on upgrading the Clifton since summer 2007, and it's been challenging. Still, he says, he'd do it all over again with another property, particularly if the economy improves and financing once again becomes available. Meanwhile, the city seems ready to stand behind him, working with him to provide a handicapped-accessible ramp and perhaps, as Scheinblum has requested, make parking for hybrid vehicles available near the small hotel.

“It looks like a fabulous project,” says Miami Beach Commissioner Saul Gross, head of the commission's sustainability, or “green” committee. “We're very excited he (Scheinblum) is making that kind of investment in our community, particularly with a green building.”

Scheinblum has criticized Miami Beach for not moving fast enough to adopt an ordinance that includes incentives for property owners to build projects that meet LEED standards, but Gross suggested such an ordinance is near adoption — and Scheinblum might qualify for its benefits. “The ordinance had been adopted by the sustainability committee before I was even aware that Brian was doing a LEED project at the Clifton,” Gross says.

For now, Scheinblum is preoccupied with making sure the Clifton opens April 15, a week before Earth Day. While the economy worries this local boy, he predicts it will be the only hotel set to open in the city this year (including a W on Collins) that will be profitable. “I think it has some inherent value these other projects don't,” he says. “There's a lot of competition in this market right now, a lot of price-cutting; we want to maintain our rates. We feel we've got a product nobody else has.” (He's contemplating a year-round average ADR of $140.)

“We're going to get to corporations that are mandating green and LEED travel, and government agencies,” he says. “We're only 35 rooms, and can hopefully fill the hotel with that type of business without having to do major discounting on online booking engines. From Day One, we'll be extremely cautious with our marketing.”

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