A new boutique collection of small hotels has been taking shape in the central beach area of Fort Lauderdale, just blocks away from the popular beachfront tourist strip.
Each hotel within the Gzella Collection is designed to have its own distinct personality and offer an eclectic mix of room types to appeal to varying travelers' tastes, property officials said.
The first in the group — the 36 room Fortuna Hotel — opened in April at the corner of Bayshore Drive and Birch Road. "The Fortuna is a bright and whimsical experience, where we've created an environment for a diverse group of people to feel comfortable," said Gzella's hotel operations manager Brian Fausett, of its ambience and decor.
A new boutique collection of small hotels has been taking shape in the central beach area of Fort Lauderdale. Some of these whimsical elements include a poolside shower stand fashioned like a surfboard and colorful room pillows that feature monkeys and wind blown palm trees.
"It's very quiet, quaint and comfortable," said Clinton Johnson, 29, of Atlanta, who stayed at the Fortuna in late June. "They were very accommodating, and I'd highly recommend it."
Johnson, a first time visitor to Fort Lauderdale, said he liked the ease of getting around the neighborhood and Fortuna's close proximity to the beach. Italian tourist Francesca Angusti, who stayed there in June with her sister and nephew, said they also loved the area and found plenty to do and see around the hotel. "It's really nice," said Angusti, as they played in one of the hotel's two pools.
Since opening, the Fortuna has attracted many European guests, several coming from France, Amsterdam, Portugal and Germany, while others have hailed from South America, said Phillipa Giesbert, a sales and marketing consultant for Gzella, on a recent tour. "Almost half of our guests are international."
The Fortuna has enjoyed a few sellout weekends in the past two months, she said, and more than half of its rooms have been reserved for July, she said.
The Fortuna's average nightly room rate for summer starts at $118.
"We've started to pick up momentum," said Giesbert of advance business on the books, which includes two wedding groups in February 2017. "We're cooking."
Gzella's next property, the 26 room Ikona at 3030 Bayshore Drive, will be a more upscale offering. It's expected to open later this summer on the site of the former Shell motel.
"Ikona is very sophisticated and very sleek, and it's definitely higherend," said Giesbert.
The premium tier property will feature a living room communal space and bar across from reception, an upper level events area, pool and lush courtyard garden. Room rates are still being finalized for Ikona, which will feature spacious accommodations including deluxe, family apartment suites and two penthouses.
The third piece of the collection, Mirra, is under construction and is expected to open in the first quarter of 2017. It will be flanked by Fortuna on the west side and Ikona on the east. Details on the Mirra's design, concept and room configuration are not yet available.
Gzella is the brainchild of Polish real estate investor and hotelier Pawel Plata, who also has ties to the Seville Hotel & Apartments a few blocks away.
The Fortuna and Mirra occupy land that was previously home to the 1950s era Seaside, Sandy Shores and Martindale motels. In February, Plata's outfit Bayshore Hotel LLC purchased the three motel site for $12.1 million from a company tied to Swedish developer Par Sanda.
Sanda in recent years has redeveloped dozens of old motels and other rundown buildings in the area, transforming them into the chic European Style beachside community now called North Beach Village.
Abby Laughlin, vice president of the Central Beach Alliance neighborhood improvement group, said she is enthusiastic about the enhancements Plata is making to the properties he's assembled along Bayshore Drive, including the addition of more trees and greenery to beautify the entire block. "It's very exciting."
Two other new independent hotels have also opened on Bayshore Drive in recent months, offering more accommodation choices in the central beach area. They are the 16 room Nobleton Hotel (formerly Snooze Garden) and nine unit Sibi Beach Hotel.
Management at the Nobleton and Sibi say the properties have fared well since opening and have also attracted mostly international visitors, including Europeans and Canadians.
Within the next three years, the central beach area and beachfront corridor are set to welcome other larger hotels, including the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences and the Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences.
"There's room for big and small," said Laughlin of the newly opened and soon to come properties. "We have a nice group of stakeholders who are really enthusiastic about the area."
Arlene Satchell | Sun Sentinel