By Nila Do Simon
Sometimes you have to look to the past to see what’s in store for the future. That’s what investor and developer Dev Motwani did for his latest project, Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences Fort Lauderdale, a luxe boutique condominium-hotel projected to open in late 2016. Set to be built in the beachside enclave of North Beach Village in Fort Lauderdale, the 96-room hotel and its adjacent 12-story building with 128 residences is an ode to the historic Escape Hotel built in 1951.
A landmark property in the mid-century that became the eventual Florida playground for the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, the Escape marked a new era of tourism for Fort Lauderdale. Built by hotel pioneer George Gill Jr., the Escape was the city’s first hotel open year-round and the first beachside property to have a pool.
The Gale naturally has a special place in Motwani’s heart, even with big-name projects including the Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences in Fort Lauderdale and Las Olas Riverfront in Motwani’s Merrimac Ventures portfolio. Growing up just blocks away from the group of buildings that formerly housed the Escape Hotel, Motwani remembers riding his bike around the area with his older brother, Nitin. So after the property sat vacant during the past decade, gutted after a stint as an adult living facility, commissioners decided it was time to restore the property. And Motwani wanted to be the one to do it.
“This is the neighborhood I grew up in,” says Motwani, who bought the property in 2011. “When I went back to research the history of the property, I saw how important it was to Fort Lauderdale’s history. The more I learned, the more I felt a strong desire to preserve it as a hotel.”
Collaborating with partners Newgard Development Group and Menin Hospitality, Motwani says the city has yet to see anything like Gale. While other new developments have units starting at 2,000 square feet, the condos in the Gale begin at 780 square feet and will top out close to 2,000 square feet.
“If you look at what’s happening in Fort Lauderdale, there’s pent-up demand for affordable, modest-sized units with a focus on lifestyle and design,” Motwani explains. “We feel there’s no competition in that segment.”
“When I went back to research the history of the Escape Hotel, I saw how important it was to Fort Lauderdale’s tourism history.”
Plans for the Gale include a rooftop deck, private lobby, fitness center and spa, concierge service, 24-hour valet parking and multiple resort-style pools. In addition, a 2,000-square-foot retail component will be built at the corner of Bayshore Drive and Birch Road, bringing what Motwani calls a venue that’ll cater to beachside residents as much as it will to tourists. Gale’s restaurants and bars will also function as meeting points—just as Dolce Italian and Regent Cocktail Club, both inside Menin Hospitality’s own Gale South Beach, have served both guests and the surrounding neighborhood.
“By partnering with Menin Hospitality, we’re bringing a great boutique brand that’s focused on design, service, and excellent food and beverage,” Motwani says. “They’re creating a place for both locals and tourists.”
The moment isn’t lost on Harvey Hernandez, Newgard Development Group’s chairman and managing director, whose past work, from Douglas Place in Coral Gables to City Palms in West Palm Beach, fit into Motwani’s desire to maintain a community-centered property. As the Miami-based firm’s first foray into Broward County, this project’s specs were exactly what drew him in.
Hernandez says, “When we envisioned this project, we thought, ‘Why not use the services for the hotel guests and residents and guests of the residents, and allow the whole community to use it?’ Those are things that help create a community identity.”
If that’s the case, it seems now is the right time for the city to look forward.
Originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.