Exclusive: Related, Hilton eye second hotel at convention center

Hilton Hotels and the Related Cos. are so pleased with the success of their new Hilton West Palm Beach at the county convention center, the companies are talking about building another hotel at the site.

The early talks center on building a boutique Hilton hotel, likely the luxury Curio Collection, next to the West Palm Beach Hilton at 600 Okeechobee Blvd.

The 200-room boutique hotel would be built on a 1.8-acre surface parking lot owned by Related Cos., behind the CityPlace South Tower condominium, Related Urban President Ken Himmel confirmed Tuesday.

Related Urban is the mixed-use unit of Related Cos., which built and manages CityPlace, the shopping, living and dining center. Related also built the Hilton West Palm Beach, which is connected to the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Decades in the making, the hotel opened in January to great fanfare. Since then, the hotel and its resort-style finishes have drawn visitors in greater numbers than expected.

“The (hotel’s) performance has met and exceeded our expectations,” Himmel said.

“I anticipated that within two years of the opening we’d be evaluating how to use that site,” Himmel said, referring to the parking lot. “But as it turns out, we might be doing that in one year instead of two.”

Himmel said his team will wait until the spring of 2017 before committing to building another hotel, so Related can better evaluate the hotel’s first-year performance, as well as the prospects of long-term bookings.

At that point, if the hotel’s performance still looks strong, “We’ll start talking about how to add rooms,” Himmel said.

Rick Greene, development services director for West Palm Beach, said an addition to the original Hilton hotel always was contemplated.

“But we didn’t expect it to come that quickly,” Greene said.

If built, the new Hilton hotel would feature a garage on lower floors, with the hotel rooms on higher floors, sources said.

The West Palm Beach Hilton not only has been a success for Hilton and Related. It also has boosted the fortunes of the Palm Beach County Convention Center, which opened in 2003.

Without a hotel, the center wasn’t able to book big events. Now that the hotel is open, however, big meetings are planned, including at least 30 events for the 2016-7 budget year, resulting in 25,000 nightly bookings at local hotels.

Although Related Cos. is an international developer, the West Palm Beach Hilton, like the CityPlace retail complex across the street, seem near and dear to Himmel and Related Chairman Stephen Ross. Both men have homes on Palm Beach.

And both men have worked to improve the Hilton since its January opening, Himmel said Tuesday.

For instance, Himmel said they decided the Hilton landscaping wasn’t lush enough, so Related spent another $500,000 to add more plants. And the outdoor restaurant and bar is being upgraded too, to mirror the look of their favorite Palm Beach haunt, the Palm Beach Grill restaurant, Himmel said.

“We’re putting in a new wood-burning oven and outdoor kitchen,” he said. Himmel said he wanted the outdoor restaurant to be “a destination restaurant, instead of a hotel bar.”

Right now, the Hilton’s bookings are evenly split between convention center guests and tourists. But Himmel said as the convention center gains traction, he expects convention center bookings to rise to about 60 to 65 percent of bookings.

Hilton’s Canopy millennial-oriented boutique hotel brand was considered for the new hotel, but it’s unlikely now for the site. A 14-story, 150-room hotel Canopy hotel planned for 701 S. Olive Ave. is going forward, Greene said.

The Miami group building the hotel soon will be seeking a foundation permit, Greene added.

So Hilton and Related likely will choose a different brand, such as Curio, so as not to have two brands in such close proximity, sources said.

Curio features a variety of luxury extras, including spas, performances and art.

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