Dream Weavers

A Florida palm tree replaced the traditional evergreen that symbolizes completion of a construction project's structural phase at the Oct. 7 topping off ceremony for Orlando's new Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. It represented “not just the growth of this wonderful resort, but its Florida roots as well,” said owner Harris Rosen. That small but meaningful gesture is typical of the independent spirit that informs everything this legendary hotelier does. It has rewarded his determination and drive with success, industry respect and wealth.

This towering project “is 55 years in the making, going back to my crazy dream of someday owning a great resort, in the tradition of such grand American resorts as the Homestead, the Greenbrier, the Broadmoor and the Breakers,” says Rosen.

We doubt anyone would dare call a Harris Rosen dream “crazy,” not at this point in his illustrious career. He's proven himself time and again in the business. Harris Rosen heads up the largest independent hotel company in Florida, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, employing more than 3,000 people at six properties in the Orlando area. The company's portfolio includes two full-service properties, the Rosen Plaza Hotel and Rosen Centre; plus the world's largest Quality Inn, with 1,020 rooms; Rodeway Inn International; Comfort Inn Lake Buena Vista; and the Quality Inn International, Rosen's first property.

Six years and $300 million in the making, the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort is on track for a Sept. 30 opening, and is said to be the largest private sector project in the Southeast and one of the top 10 projects in the country. The resort, along with the championship Shingle Creek Golf Course, sits on a 230-acre site nestled along Shingle Creek, headwaters of the Florida Everglades. Located just 10 minutes from Orlando International Airport and minutes from Sea World and Universal Orlando, Shingle Creek will be the closest full-service convention resort to the Orange County Convention Center, which is just one mile away. Upon completion the hotel will feature 1,500 guest-rooms, 250,000 square feet of meeting space, a 95,000-square-foot, column-free ballroom, and a 13,000-square-foot spa and health club. It will be the largest Rosen property to date.

THE STORY

After completing the Rosen Centre in 1995, Rosen started “noodling about what to do next.” He and Vice President Garritt Toohey (who's been with Rosen since 1977) started looking for property to develop into a resort and in 1999 settled on a parcel off 2,200 acres Universal Studios was divesting. “We paid cash, $38 million for the property,” recalls Rosen. “I remember the attorney came over to my house where I was cooking for the kids. I didn't even read the papers, I just gave him a check.

“When I walked the property the first time, I saw some deer, a bald eagle, and a beautiful pond with fish — and I think for all the wrong reasons I fell in love with the place,” says Rosen. “I confess I didn't take a hard look at the property until I went up in a helicopter several weeks after acquiring it. What I saw was surprising — cutting through the eastern boundary was a dinky little stream. I turned to the pilot and said ‘what in God's name is that and will it cause us any construction problems? Might we have to fill it or divert it?’ It turns out that dinky little stream is Shingle Creek, the headwaters to Florida's Everglades. It's beautiful and pristine and it looks like Florida from hundreds of years ago, so we decided to adopt it as our cause.”

Working with state and conservation groups, Rosen's company is assisting in building a wilderness trail spanning 140 miles to Lake Okeechobee. It also conducts a “clean up the creek day” once a year.

“I think this project is the perfect example of development and ecology existing together harmoniously,” says Rosen. “Garritt and I are working hard to preserve the integrity of Shingle Creek.”

Spurring this drive is the spirit of the late author, Patrick Smith, who wrote a book that's required reading for all Rosen Shingle Creek Resort employees: A Land Remembered recounts the rough, rich history of Central Florida and its inhabitants. “The creek and location give this resort a personality and a reason for being, its identity,” says Rosen.

Beyond the resort's “story,” which increasingly seems to be a marketing must for any large resort these days, Rosen sees a niche in the booming Orlando market for a world-class meeting facility within the context of a golf resort.

The next step was defining the look of the property and for that, Rosen turned to the seasoned team of architects, designers and contractors he previously worked with on the Rosen Centre and Rosen Plaza hotels. “We've had a wonderful relationship with them over several decades and decided to use them again,” says Rosen.

Rosen and Toohey directed the team to imagine Florida between the 1850s and the early 1900s for their guiding theme, with a Spanish Revival look typical of Florida grand hotels. And, how cool is this — in early summer of 2001 the owners sent the team, including architects Tom Hurley and John Anderson and interior designers Kristine Gregonis and Brenda Hall, on an inspirational road trip around the state to visit such landmark Florida hotels as the Breakers, the Boca Raton Hotel and Club and the Colonnade.

But just as they were gearing up for the design process, the events of Sept. 11 brought the project to a halt for a year. While the hotel was put on hold, the resort's golf course was developed. The Shingle Creek Golf Club, recently named one of the Top 40 New Courses by Golfweek magazine, is a par 72, David Harman-designed championship course that flanks the scenic creek.

Rosen and Toohey like to solicit design input not only from design experts, but also from those who intimately understand the workings of a hotel — their employees. Director of Sales and Marketing Leslie Menichini, who most recently opened Paris Las Vegas, describes how she was approached by Rosen for her input on Shingle Creek's meeting facilities. “I've opened four properties in my career, and this is the first time my knowledge and skills are really being used,” says Menichini. “Mr. Rosen suggested I take the architect, director of engineering, director of IT and GM Dan Giordano to visit a couple of Orlando area hotels to check out those meeting facilities that really make an impact and might make us that much stronger. I said, ‘with all due respect, Orlando already has Orlando, and maybe we should check out Las Vegas, which has some of the latest high tech facilities.’ He said, ‘okay, take the architect, the director of engineering…’,” she laughs. “Anyway, I'm pinching myself thinking, what kind of hotel company lets the director of marketing and sales take charge of these people and say ‘this is what I want’? Well, we went to Las Vegas and we came back with some great ideas for this resort.”

The Rosen team also spends time gleaning customer feedback on design issues, says Toohey. “We ask them to analyze what we've done and how we can do it better and we listen very carefully to their ideas as they're the folks who'll ultimately make or break the project.”

The budget for the entire project, including land and the golf course development, will top out around $300 million, reports Rosen, who is well known for his keen eye for cost controls and value engineering. “Mr. Rosen is very shrewd and a lot of his success comes from his demanding that we find the best product we can to fit within a budget,” says Brenda Hall, interior designer for guest spaces. “There's a lot of negotiating, but he also knows that a hotel takes a lot of abuse, so there has to be an awareness not only of the appearance but the longevity of each item that we develop and specifiy.”

Admired for his philanthropy as much as his savvy business skills, Rosen is also known for such initiatives as his Shares of Success incentive, which has distributed no less than $1.5 million per year to full-time employees such as housekeepers and waitstaff, who would not otherwise participate in an incentive plan.

And, in keeping with his generous nature, Harris Rosen donated 20 acres of the Shingle Creek property and $10 million to establish the University of Central Florida School of Hospitality Management. With dollar-for-dollar state matching, the gift translated into $20 million for a facility that will reap benefits for both students and the area's growing hospitality industry. “It's a great resource for everyone here, with contributions from others like Disney, Universal, Marriott, Starwood and Darden Restaurants,” says Rosen. “The school of hospitality at UCF has grown from about 65 students five years ago to close to 2,000 today, making it the fastest-growing college in the U.S. With 300-400 graduates a year, if we can keep those young people in state, it'd be a major coup for us here.” Adds Leslie Menichini: “And there's 800 student apartments — with housekeeping!”


Coming up in the March 15 issue: We talk in depth with the architect and designers on their plans, and watch the structure rise from the Central Florida grasslands.

Editor's Note: In this four-part series Design Editor Patricia Sheehan follows the birth of a major hotel development project, from conception and design through construction and installation to opening day. It's an exciting and hectic collaborative process, full of creative and technical challenges. First up this month: the concept

THE BIG IDEAS

The Project: Rosen Shingle Creek Resort

Scheduled Opening: Sept. 30, 2006

Projected Cost: $300 million

Owner: Rosen Hotels & Resorts

Architect: HHCP Architects, Inc.

General Contractor: Welbro Building Corp.

Structural Engineer: Bill Mitzo, Mitzo Engineering

Interior Designer, Public Spaces: Kristine Gregonis, Kristine Gregonis Associates

Interior Designer, Guest Spaces: Brenda Hall, Wm. B. Dodson

Guestrooms/Suites: 1,500

Meeting Space: 250,000 square feet, including a 95,000-square-foot column-free ballroom

Amenities: 18-hole golf course, three pools, tennis, full-service spa and fitness center, canoeing, hiking and fishing

New & Improved

WHAT'S NEW… The Westin Bellevue opened in November, 15 minutes east of downtown Seattle. The new- construction property is the centerpiece of Lincoln Square, an upscale 1.4-million-square-foot mixed-use development project…AND IMPROVED… Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa, Paradise Valley, AZ, just spent $5 million renovating 74 mountain casitas. Central to the design scheme is the contrast of warm, earthy materials like wood block floors and limestone and state-of-the-art technology…The Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square New York City recently completed an extensive $12-million renovation of all 460 guestrooms. Redesigned in vibrant blues and greens with earth tone accents, each guestroom is a two-room suite that features new furniture, window coverings and contemporary artwork…The TradeWinds Island Resorts, including the Island Grand Resort and the Sandpiper Hotel & Suites, St. Pete Beach, FL, has completed a $15-million renovation. The TradeWinds Sandpiper Hotel & Suites spent $9 million redesigning courtyards, pool decks and the lobby, with a total renovation of all 159 guest-rooms and suites. Guestrooms at the Island Grand Resort now boast granite countertops, down-filled duvet covers and microwaves and refrigerators in all rooms; suites feature kitchenettes…The Carlton on Madison Avenue, New York City, has reopened in the footprint of the old Seville Hotel after completing a five-year, $60-million renovation and preservations. Architect David Rockwell led the project, which included renovation of all 316 guestrooms and suites and a 17,000-square-foot addition. The addition added a three-story lobby, an antique lobby bar and state-of-the-art meeting facilities…VOA Associates, Inc. announces completion of a $4-million renovation of the Radisson Resort Parkway, Kissimmee, FL. The project included a complete renovation of the hotel's 10,000-square-foot meeting space, fitness room and game room; a partial renovation of all 718 guestrooms; and a partial exterior re-imaging and landscape plan…Hyatt Regency Reston, VA has completed the final phase of a $12-million renovation with the redesign of its Grand and Regency ballrooms. The new ballrooms complement the refurbishment of the hotel's guestrooms, conference suites, corridors and club level rooms…Crestline Hotels & Resorts, Inc. has restored and expanded Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center, Staunton, VA to the tune of $21.1 million. The historic hotel opened in 1924 and was recently recognized by the National Trust for Historic Hotels of America for its architectural significance and design by architect H.L. Stevens.

GRAND HOTELS ON DISPLAY

If you're in Miami Beach between now and May 28, be sure to head over to the Wolfsonian-Florida International University for its insightful exploration of American hotels in the early 20th century. The exhibit, titled In Pursuit of Pleasure, offers a detailed look at the landmark luxury hotels designed by the architectural firm of Leonard Schultze and S. Fullerton Weaver. You might not recognize those names but you'll know their work: the Waldorf =Astoria, the Sherry-Netherland, the Pierre, and the Lexington, in New York; the Breakers in Palm Beach; the Nautilus and Roney Plaza in Miami Beach; and the Miami Biltmore in Coral Gables.

The 1920s were the last great era of grand hotel construction until the post-war boom, and no firm made a bigger mark in those years than Schultze & Weaver. The exhibition focuses on their hotels, while framing their work within a broader historical context of consumption and modernism, as well as class, gender and race. Changing patterns of design are explored, from the rambling urban hotels of more than a thousand guest-rooms at the beginning of the century to the small, streamlined hotels of the 1930s, and concluding with Morris Lapidus' 1953-54 Fontainebleau.

The Wolfsonian is located at 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. For more information, call 305-531-1001 or go to www.wolfsonian.org.

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