If you’re in the boutique hotel business, you owe a debt of gratitude to someone you may never heard of. He’s Tony Goldman, a visionary developer with a passion for historic preservation. He’s the man who nearly singlehandedly changed the fortunes of both New York City’s SoHo neighborhood and South Florida’s South Beach, the epicenter of the boutique hotel business.
Goldman, 68, died last week of heart failure in Manhattan, his hometown and headquarters of the nearly 45-year-old Goldman Properties Co. Goldman was an entrepreneur who could spot opportunity where others couldn’t. In the 1970s, it was SoHo, at the time a run-down manufacturing area with few residents and fewer amenities. He bought more than a score of buildings in the area to redevelop them as loft housing, upscale retail and restaurants, including his own Greene Street Café and later the SoHo Kitchen. Hotels and more retail and residential soon followed, and today SoHo has some of the highest real estate values in the nation. All because of his vision.
About 10 years later, he stumbled upon a dilapidated section in the southern reaches of Miami Beach. The area of broken-down Art Deco hotels was already under limited redevelopment, but Goldman jumped full force into the fray, buying and rehabbing many buildings into hotels. His company still owns and operates The Park Central, the quintessential South Beach Art Deco boutique hotel, as well as The Hotel of South Beach. His efforts in SoHo and South Beach and later the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia and most recently, the Wynwood district of Miami were fueled by more than just a profit motive. Like the best developers, Goldman had a strong sense that history is worth saving and was willing to bet he could simultaneously preserve the past and make money doing so.
Nearly 20 years ago while in San Juan, my wife Carolyn and I toured an old, decrepit convent with developer Hugh Andrews, who was in the midst of reimagining the space as a hotel. As we walked through the space with Hugh, he was able to paint a verbal picture of the vision he had for the space. He described what I couldn’t imagine, but he spoke with a confidence that was hard to refute. Several years later, on a return trip to old San Juan, we stayed at the hotel, the El Convento, and were able to see and experience how Hugh was able to transform his dream into a functioning reality. It amazes me to this day.
Commercial real estate development, and hotel development even more so, is a combination of money, smarts, determination, luck, grit and vision. The best developers place vision at the top of their skill sets, while at the same time understanding the financial side of the business. While financing and construction can be taught, vision can’t be. If you know a successful developer, he or she is probably also a world-class visionary. Unfortunately, the world lost one of the best ones last week.