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New brand takes over Miami Beach's oceanfront Continental Hotel



NEW YORK - One of the new, hip and unknown hotel brands hoping to catch the attention of hotel industry movers and shakers today at the 33rd NYU hotel investment conference may sound vaguely familiar. It's called B.

That's right - B, 20 letters away from Starwood's glam brand W.

But don't mention W to brand chief Chris Tompkins, who used to work at Starwood and hears the question so often that he has a well-practiced reply.

"The commonality between W and B is the fact that we have a single letter name," Tompkins told me in a recent interview. "The rest of it is not. Our brand is about approachability from both a price and product standpoint."

One example: You want to connect in your room? It's free, unlike most major chains such as the W. You don't have to worry about paying or being a certain member in a loyalty program.

TWITTER:  Follow Hotel Check-In at the NYU conference

The B brand, led by CEO Ayalet Weinstein, already operates B Ocean Fort Lauderdale. But today, B will announce its second hotel, this time in sought-after Miami Beach a few blocks from the heart of South Beach.

B will operate the old, ocean-front Continental Hotel at Collins and 18th - an area that some local businesspeople want to promote as "Sobe 10" due to its proximity to South Beach.

The 251-room hotel, with a large lobby and backyard pool, is also two blocks from the trendy pedestrian mall, Lincoln Road, and the Miami Beach convention center.

Tompkins expects to open it the final months of 2012, yet - like Ian Schrager with his new PUBLIC venture in Chicago - B the hotel will rent a limited number of rooms during the transformation to keep some cash coming in.

On a broader level, B's goal is to cater to a diverse but broad group of sophisticated travelers who don't like pretentious boutique hotels and offer them "four-star product at a three-and-a-half star price," Tompkins told me.

"Our demographic that we speak to is 30 to 70. It's very wide. They are astute consumers. They're very hip. It's the progressive generation, who are self-educated and continue to use the web to do research to look for what experience will be at a good value."

One example of perks that sophisticated travelers might like: Borrowing one of five iPads covered in a leather case to take as they sit out on the beach. There's a break-it-you-buy-it policy, but so far the iPads are fine, Tompkins said.

Room rates at a B?

At the its stylish resort hotel in Fort Lauderdale, rooms run around $229 to $249 a night, compared to the $289 to $329 at the rival W in town, he said.

In South Beach, Tompkins says they'll look to price rooms in the $350 or $450 a night range, well below the $800 that the W South Beach might fetch in season for its chic new rooms. Tompkins says the B will have the "same polished feel" as the W.

Other locations?

B is betting that, with the big chains so common in popular markets such as New York, Washington D.C. and Orlando, that investors will look for alternative brands for to put on their hotel buildings.

In Miami Beach, stylish hotels across the price spectrum have opened since the travel downturn years beginning in 2008. They include the W South Beach, the Standard, Gansevoort South and Mondrian South Beach. The unlikely duo of Ian Schrager and Marriott are creating one of their Edition luxury hotels at the old Seville Hotel at Collins and 12th Street.

Tompkins says they have other deals in the works, but none that are solid.

At this point, B doesn't have money in either of its two South Florida hotels, but that could change. "I didn't say we wouldn't do that if the right opportunity" comes along, Tompkins said.

Readers: Intrigued?

By Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY

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