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Published: December 2, 2010

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20101210MiamiHerald Art Review
Art Basel draws a crowd, and hotels are selling out

During last year's recession-tinged Art Basel Miami Beach, gallery art director Christine Schefman scored a great deal -- on a $199-a-night room at the Fontainebleau. This year, the bargains were harder to come by, but Schefman was still pleased with the rooms she found a few months ago at the nearby Eden Roc for a little over $200 a night. ``I think we spent a fair price,'' said Schefman, of David Klein Gallery near Detroit, which is showing at the satellite Art Miami fair. ``Have you tried to get a hotel in New York lately? That's insane.'' Schefman's experience sums up the hotel scene for Art Basel and its surrounding events this year: Prices are higher, rooms sold out faster and discounts are scarcer, but the stratospheric rates that angered exhibitors before the economic downturn appear to have disappeared. Still, hotels reported that they were happily charging full price and in some cases requiring three- or four-night minimum stays. ``I can tell you that every single room in the hotel is sold at its full price,'' said George M. Cozonis, general manager of the W South Beach Hotel & Residences. The hotel has been sold out since September at prices ranging from $850 studios to $8,500 penthouse suites with a minimum four-night stay for most rooms. By contrast, Cozonis said, last year the 408-unit hotel still had rooms available in mid-November for the December art week.
The hotel is hosting mainly collectors and owners of large galleries, Cozonis said, as well as art fans. The Gansevoort Miami Beach, which sold out a few weeks ago, has rates about $100 a night more than last year, with rooms starting at $450. It required three-night minimum stays. Managing director Craig Martin said the hotel stepped up its involvement in the fair, showing the work of six different artists at venues from the lobby to the pool and ballroom. ``We wanted to go full force for Basel,'' he said. Several other hotels have turned their spaces into art showrooms, including Aqua Hotel, Sagamore and Whitelaw Hotel in Miami Beach. Though South Beach is the epicenter of Art Basel activity, hotels farther north and west, including hot downtown spots like JW Marriott Marquis, Viceroy Miami and Epic Hotel, were getting in on the art fair action. Art Basel's official travel agency, Turon Travel, lists nearly 40 hotels in Miami Beach, Downtown Miami and Coral Gables, all of which were marked in red as ``sold out'' at the beginning of the week -- though further exploration on hotel websites showed a few rooms available. ``In regards to Miami, I think the recession's over if you're looking at Art Basel,'' said Turon owner Nicholas Christopher. Which is good for hotels, but not so great for discount seekers. ``My office in New York has been flooded the last few days with bargain hunters,'' said Christopher. ``There are no bargains.'' A search on shows some rooms still open for last-minute travelers. The Shelborne Beach Resort at 1801 Collins Ave., for example, is offering rooms that average $228 a night for a stay from Wednesday through Sunday. For bigger spenders, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach has rooms starting at $699 a night. The official Art Basel Miami Beach fair draws an estimated 40,000 attendees, a third of them from out of town. Based on surveys before this year's event, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates occupancy for the week will be 92 percent around the county -- an increase from 83 percent last year. ``The planets are lining up quite nicely for this Basel to have a significant financial impact just from the hotels aspect,'' said Rolando Aedo, the bureau's senior vice president for marketing. The event was originally scheduled in early December because it fell during a slow stretch between Thanksgiving and winter holidays when room rates were reasonable, said Robert Goodman, Florida representative for Art Basel Miami Beach. Now Art Basel serves as the kickoff for the high tourism season -- and an indicator of what lies ahead. ``I think Art Basel is a great thermometer for us to see where the mind of the leisure traveler is at,'' said Jorge Gonzalez, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental in downtown Miami. The hotel on Brickell Key found success this year in a new partnership with satellite fair Art Miami, selling out earlier than it did the last couple of years with rates starting at $459 a night. As the fair's partner, the Mandarin Oriental is hosting a contemporary exhibition of Asian art during the week and sponsoring a 3,000-square-foot VIP lounge at the fair in Midtown. No discounts were necessary this year. Said Gonzalez: ``If we could have Art Basel every month, it would be sensational.'' Read more: