FORT LAUDERDALE, FL-John McDonald will franchise the St. Regis name and operating style for a 234-room hotel that he has been seeking to build at Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The developer had received local approvals in January for a hotel that was then called the Castillo Grand, with 265 rooms and a projected construction price of $143 million. As a St. Regis, the hotel’s room count has been reduced but the expected development cost has risen to $160 million.

Although McDonald has not nailed down his financing, he still plans to get into the ground this November, with completion slated in late 2002. Starwood Hotels & Resorts of White Plains, NY, which franchises the St. Regis luxury brand, has agreed to flag its initial beach property in California. The local facility would be its first hotel asset in Florida.

Building high-priced hotels is not an easy task for developers these days. That was borne out this week with the news that the $600-million rebuilt Diplomat Resort, Country Club and Spa in nearby Hollywood will not open the first of its some 1,000 rooms in January. Already a year behind original construction schedule, the project has now been delayed again. Only 150 to 200 rooms are to be ready by February.

The facility is not expected to be fully operational until next July when it hosts the annual convention of the National Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters, which is bankrolling the venture.

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