Historic South Beach hotel is getting an $85 million makeover. What’s new?

The Shelborne South Beach hotel’s makeover started in late November.
The Shelborne South Beach hotel shown on Friday, March 28, 2014.
The Shelborne South Beach hotel shown on Friday, March 28, 2014. [ MARSHA HALPER | Miami Herald ]
Published Dec. 9, 2023

An $85 million renovation of the Shelborne South Beach is a new start for one of Miami Beach’s oldest oceanfront hotels at a time when other historic buildings are under threat.

The hotel’s makeover started in late November, according to owners and partners Toronto-based Westdale Properties, New York’s King Street Real Estate, Cedar Capital Partners of London, and hotel management firm Proper Hospitality from Venice, California.

Updates are coming to the Miami Beach hotel’s 251 rooms, restaurants, pool deck and event spaces. The hotel at 1801 Collins Ave. is expected to open in the first half of 2025.

How the Shelborne hotel began

A photo of the Shelborne South Beach from the Miami Herald archives.
A photo of the Shelborne South Beach from the Miami Herald archives. [ MIAMI HERALD | Miami Herald ]

Built in 1940 by Igor Polevitzky and Tripp Russell, the Shelborne has had many different lives. Rising 14 stories, it was known as a MiMo, or Miami Modern, skyscraper, one of the tallest hotels in South Beach when it opened. Shortly after its debut, the Shelborne became the home of U.S. soldiers training for deployment during World War II.

It reopened to the public in 1945 and later got a facelift and seven-story streetfront addition led by architect Morris Lapidus.

Why the new owners invested in the hotel

The investment is a big step for the hotel at a time when the hospitality industry, the biggest economic driver in Miami Beach and across Miami-Dade County, is still recovering from the pandemic.

Many hotels like the Shelborne face threats of demolition. Earlier this year, the Deauville was demolished under new ownership. And the Clevelander Hotel and Bar on Ocean Drive may no longer be a hotel.

“Owning a heritage hotel we’re part of the reason why Miami is internationally renown,” said Mitchell Cohen, chief operating officer of Westdale Properties. “When people think about Miami, yeah, they think about the palm trees, sand, great weather. But they also think about the incredible hotels on South Beach.”

An architectural gem in South Beach

The Shelborne got attention from across the country for being an architectural gem, landing on the cover of the magazine Architectural Record in 1941 and drawing curious architects for the professional American Institute of Architects national convention in 1946. Today, the hotel is recognized as one of the contributing buildings to the Ocean Drive-Collins Avenue Historic District.

“We love heritage. We are guardian of the past and protector of the future,” Cohen said. “They don’t make beachfront property like this property any longer and especially as gorgeous as the Shelborne.”

The pandemic bruised the hotel industry in Miami-Dade County, and severely hurt cities that depend on tourists like Miami Beach. But Westdale Properties jumped on the Shelborne early during the pandemic and acquired it in February 2020 for $120 million. The firm intended on starting renovations soon after, but got delayed for years due to COVID-19.

Once the renovations are complete, the public will have access to a pool-facing indoor bar adorned by two-story floor-to-ceiling windows. Westdale Properties and Proper Hospitality are now finalizing the bar and restaurant vendors for the site.

A model for other hotels

The project should be celebrated, setting an important model to show these hotels “can have future lives,” said Daniel Ciraldo, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League. “Sometimes we only hear about the big controversial projects. We should be celebrating projects like this that protect what they have. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this.”

Just like the Shelborne, the area surrounding the hotel is experiencing a metamorphosis.

Next door, the Lawrence Murray Dixon-designed hotel The Raleigh is undergoing a $500 million renovation and, approved this fall, the last two blocks of Lapidus’ outdoor Lincoln Road mall will undergo a $12 million makeover.

©2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.