The Biscayne Times

Jul 08th
A Waterpark Slides into Aventura PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
January 2019

Traffic? What traffic? It’s for members only, right?

OWaterpark_1n December 18, Aventura city officials and executives from Turnberry Associates gathered at Turnberry Isle Resort to raise a flag and celebrate the rebranding of the 300-acre country club and hotel resort as a JW Marriott.

There was complimentary coffee, a brief speech by the general manager, and picture taking. But there wasn’t a tour. That’s because Turnberry Isle Resort Miami, now called JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, is in the midst of a $200 million transformation, and parts of the property are still active construction zones.

When that transformation is complete, Turnberry Resort will have a new 16-story hotel on site, an expanded 121,000-square-foot convention center, two revamped 18-hole golf courses, and a new lobby bar called Soff’s.

Oh, and a five-acre, state-of-the-art waterpark.

That’s right, a property once created as an adult playground for the rich and famous will now include Tidal Cove, a waterpark for people of all ages. Tidal Cove’s water slide system, still under construction, can even be seen from the public streets at the intersection of NE 199th Street and W. Country Club Drive.

And that caused quite a stir, remembers Gladys Mezrahi, an Aventura city commissioner. “We got a lot of calls because [residents] thought it was public,” she tells the BT. “They didn’t like the prospect of Aventura’s already congested roadways being further clogged by hordes of waterpark visitors. But when they heard it’s part of Turnberry and it was not a public park open to anyone, now they feel good.”

Traffic is something Aventura has in abundance, thanks in part to its high concentration of condominium communities and the three-million-square-foot Aventura Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the nation. Aventura Mall, incidentally, is just west of Turnberry Isle and was developed by the same people who built the country club and resort.

Waterpark_2Aventura Mall is also still growing, having just completed a 315,000-square-foot retail and restaurant wing, which includes a nine-story (non-water) slide designed by Belgian sculptor Carsten Holler and the Haas Brothers’ Gorillas in the Mist interactive water feature. Another company, Seritage Growth, is replacing the mall’s Sears anchor store with a 215,000-square-foot retail complex called Esplanade Aventura.

But Jeff Klein, vice president and general manager of JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Isle Resort & Spa, says residents won’t have to worry about additional traffic from Tidal Cove. At least not immediately.

“We’ll never have a general admission. It will be for resort guests and [club] members,” Klein says.

Never? Really?

“I wouldn’t use the word never,” Klein hedges, before restating: “The waterpark Tidal Cove will be an amenity for our hotel guests and members.”

Vanessa Viadero, director of marketing for Turnberry Isle, also states that Tidal Cove “right now” is an amenity for hotel guests and members. But in the future, might Turnberry sell admission tickets to non-members and non-hotel guests? “That has not been decided yet,” Viadero says. “There’s always a possibility.”

A quick Google maps search reveals that South Florida already has 14 waterparks. Within Miami-Dade County, there’s the City of Miami’s Grapeland Park, two large waterparks in Hialeah, a modest waterpark facility in Miami Beach’s Flamingo Park, and the Miami Shores Aquatic Center (which includes several water slides). Paradise Cove waterpark, located within C.B. Park in Pembroke Pines, has four 50-foot-tall water slides.

Tidal Cove, according to Turnberry press materials, will be a “world-class park” when it opens in the spring. It’ll have a 60-foot-tall tower with seven water slides, a “gravity defying raft ride,” a lazy river feature where guests on rafts can gently meander with an artificial current, a machine that generates supposedly surfable waves, and a splash park.

Waterpark_3Also, since people do get hungry (and adults, uh, thirsty), Tidal Cove will be home to the Surf House Bar & Grill, as well as the casual Free Style eatery. (Outside of Tidal Cove, JW Marriott Turnberry now has two restaurants on site, Bourbon Steak and Corsair Kitchen & Bar, which are open to non-guests and non-members.)

Klein insists that Tidal Cove isn’t meant to compete with general admission facilities like Grapeland Park or Paradise Cove. Instead, Tidal Cove will be an amenity designed to give Turnberry Isle a leg up against other luxury resorts, especially those with their own giant water slides and lazy rivers, many of which are in the Orlando area.

“Adding a waterpark to a resort creates a true destination for families,” Klein says. “It also adds tremendous value to our membership at Turnberry Isle Club, so it would be great for families and resort guests.”

Turnberry Isle Resort has had a number of extensive renovations and hotel flags in its 48-year history. It was developed by Donald Soffer, founder of Turnberry Associates and the eventual developer of Aventura Mall. Originally called Aventura Country Club, its first phase was completed in 1970 and was a core piece of Soffer’s plan to convert an area of wetlands and abandoned rock mines into a residential community.

Ten years later, in 1980, the country club was renamed Turnberry Isle Resort and Country Club, after the renowned golf course in Scotland. (For more on the Soffer family’s history of real estate development, see “Family & Fortune,” January 2012.)

The property went through a wild phase in the 1980s, attracting celebrities, models, politicians, and, according to Vanity Fair magazine, drug traffickers. The Gary Hart scandal in 1987, during which the married U.S. Senator and presidential contender was photographed with a young model during an excursion to Bimini on a yacht chartered at Turnberry, pretty much ended the country club’s party times.

Between 1988 and the early 1990s, Donald Soffer sold Turnberry Isle to Rafael Hotels for a some $80 million. His son, Jeffrey Soffer, led the charge to buy back Turnberry Isle (then from a Kuwaiti pension fund) for around $105 million in 2005, the same year Jeffrey bought the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for $325 million.

Jeffrey Soffer then invested $150 million renovating the property and made a deal with Fairmont Hotels to manage it for the next 25 years. But Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort and Club didn’t last long. In February 2011, the Soffer family fired Fairmont and even had security escort Fairmont executives off the property.

By May 2012, Turnberry Isle Resort, now managed directly by Turnberry Associates, became a franchisee of Marriott International as part of its Autograph Collection. Last month’s flag-raising ceremony marked Turnberry’s entry into Marriott’s coveted JW Marriott luxury brand portfolio.

A large part of Turnberry Isle becoming a JW Marriott is the current $200 million renovation, which is primarily being financed by a $248.9 million mortgage from the Bank of China, according to a report in the South Florida Business Journal. That renovation includes adding another 80,000 square feet of convention meeting space, as well as increasing the number of hotel rooms from 408 to 685 by constructing the brand-new 325-room Orchid Hotel, where rates will start at $529 a night once it opens sometime in January.

But are more rooms really better? Bobby Bowers, senior vice president at STR, a Tennessee-based research firm that analyzes global hotel data, notes that the number of hotel rooms in Miami-Dade County has been on an upswing. In October 2018, the supply of hotel rooms increased by 4.0 percent compared to the previous year, while demand decreased 4.4 percent.

Nevertheless, overall, demand for hotel rooms in Miami-Dade increased considerably in 2018 compared to 2017, Bowers says: “I think with a market like [greater] Miami, it’s really one of those markets that, long term, it’s a really good place to be. It’s just a highly desirable market for business-style conventions and leisure.” If Marriott is involved, Bowers bets that the company did its homework on Turnberry’s expansion plans.

As for the waterpark feature, Bowers says it’s a good move on Turnberry’s part. “I think, especially a destination resort like that, this type of amenity would be a thing you would want to have,” he tells the BT. Such an amenity can entertain the children of guests while the adults can relax and play golf or dine at Turnberry’s on-site restaurants. “When talking about a destination resort, you’d like to have enough offerings -- like a spa, golf, a waterpark -- whatever type of activities that might have them stay on the property and spend within the boundaries of the hotel,” Bowers says.

John Gerner is the managing partner of Leisure Business Associates, a consulting company in Richmond, Virginia, that specializes in amusement parks, resorts, and waterparks. Gerner says that publicly owned swimming pools and hotel-owned swimming pools across the country are being converted into waterparks as a means of increasing revenue. Even cruise ships are replacing pools with waterpark features, Gerner adds.

“Waterparks add to the mix,” Gerner says. “The goal of any kind of operation like [Turnberry] is to appeal to the whole family.”

Golf, on the other hand, is declining in popularity. “Younger people aren’t as into golf as the older ones,” Gerner points out.

Golf is still the largest physical attraction of Turnberry Isle, where lifetime memberships cost between $65,000 (for a non-refundable membership) and $150,000 (refundable). The two 18-hole golf courses, originally designed by the late renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, were redesigned with the help of golf champion Raymond Floyd as part of the ongoing renovation.

Jeff Klein insists that golf is still very popular at Turnberry Isle. “Our golf courses are very busy. We have a large membership that utilizes the golf courses on a regular basis,” he says.

Contrary to national trends, people of all ages are playing golf, Klein asserts, including millennials, especially when they happen to be staying at the resort. “I think when you travel to a resort and there’s an amenity like golf, people typically do things they don’t normally have time to do,” he says. “So having two championship golf courses is certainly a major attribute for this resort.”

The City of Aventura, for its part, is braced for the anticipated traffic that comes with an expanded resort, even passing a “traffic control jurisdiction agreement” with Turnberry in November 2017.

Commissioner Mezrahi says she’s willing to put up with the increased number of people who will journey to Aventura for the mall expansion and Turnberry Isle. “This is part of growth,” Mezrahi says. “This is part of sustainability. They’re also bringing jobs to the city. And with jobs to the city there also comes traffic jams and everything else. But that’s how cities grow. And we are also a destination city.”

There is, however, a limit to Mezrahi’s tolerance. The commissioner tells the BT she wouldn’t be pleased if Turnberry Associates ever invites visitors other than members and resort guests to Tidal Cove.

“Then you would have all these lines of people, you would have the extra traffic,” she says.


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