Marriott Renaissance slated for West Palm, as city becomes hotel hotbed


No room at the inn? Not in downtown West Palm Beach anymore. After years of no new hotels in the city’s core, West Palm Beach now is a hotel hotbed.

The latest property set to rise is a Marriott Renaissance at 302 Datura St., the corner of Datura and Olive Avenue. The property consists of a parking lot and a now-vacant building that was home to an H&R Block, and before that, a bank branch featuring lower-level floors with vaults.

The property once was zoned for condos during the real estate boom. But when the economy went bust, the site went silent.

Now, eight years later, efforts are afoot to build a 166-room, four-star property. The hotel will rise eight stories and include a rooftop pool and bar.

Efforts to develop the site gained momentum this month when a partnership that includes West Palm Beach lawyer Bill Jacobson bought out other partners. Jacobson and an unnamed new partner with hotel experience are wrapping up financing for the site.

The Marriott Renaissance would fill a niche not currently served in the downtown market, Jacobson said. The hotel will be “full-service,” including room service, and will feature a downstairs restaurant, too.

Other hotels downtown fill different niches and are limited-service. There’s the Hyatt Place at 295 Lakeview Ave.; and the Marriott Residence Inn, an extended-stay hotel at 455 Hibiscus St.

Also coming to downtown West Palm Beach: Niche hotel brands aimed at millennials, such as AC Hotels by Marriott, planned for the old City Hall site, east of Olive Avenue, between Banyan Boulevard and Second Street. There also is a proposed Canopy Hotel by Hilton at 701 S. Olive Ave.

In addition, west of downtown, a hotel has been proposed at Palm Beach International Airport. And on the north edge of the city’s downtown, at 550 Quadrille, billionaire investor Jeff Greene wants to build an unnamed, extended-stay hotel, too.

Kicking off demand for all these hotel rooms is the 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach Convention Center hotel.

The long-awaited hotel is expected to galvanize use of the Palm Beach County Convention Center next door, a center that city and business leaders say has been underused because of the lack of an adjacent hotel.

In an email last week, developer Ken Himmel, of the Related Cos., said he would be in West Palm Beach on Dec. 22 to oversee last-minute details and firm up an opening date, which is expected during the next couple of weeks.

Jacobson said his Renaissance hotel also will feature meeting space, in a nod to the expected boost in demand likely from the ability of the Convention Center to book larger events.

Jacobson hopes to break ground on the hotel during the next six months, making a 2018 opening likely.

HotelPlanner.com grows

HotelPlanner.com, the world’s largest provider of online group hotel bookings, recently threw open the doors to its new corporate headquarters, a 15,000-square-foot space atop the PNC Bank Building at 205 Datura St.

The company is finding West Palm Beach not only a good place for living but also for doing business. Already, it has forged a relationship with the soon-to-open Hilton Convention Center hotel.

“They’ve signed up to work with us,” said HotelPlanner.com co-founder John Prince. “They’re building a book of business before they even open. I think the hotel will be a big success.”

It’s a good thing HotelPlanner.com decided to stay in town and help out the neighborhood.

The company picked West Palm Beach over other cities to expand its fast-growing business, which started with two college students in 2002 seeking to use technology to make it easier to book blocks of rooms.

In just a few years, HotelPlanner.com has grown to a headquarters staff of 55, on its way to 120, according to Prince.

Prince and business partner Tim Hentschel decided on West Palm Beach for a few reasons: Prince said he wanted to stay on the East Coast, in a low-tax state, in a family-friendly city that had great amenities and an up-and-coming business climate.

Prince said his company has a unique system that allows hotels to compete for room blocks from major travel companies. Major clients now include sports organizations, such as National Football League teams, and the federal government.

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, who attended the company’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 11, said the company’s presence boosts the city’s image as a “young, tech-savvy” home for entrepreneurs.

HotelPlanner.com has been a bit of a stealth player downtown. Its prior office space was in executive suites at the Regus space in the Phillips Point office complex at 777 S. Flagler Drive.

But with the added space and higher profile, Prince has hired more software engineers, sales people and call center workers.

Now the focus is on hiring a chief financial officer, preferably with a background in Internet technology.

It’s a big job: The company’s revenues have hit $24 million annually, Prince said.

Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.


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