FORT LAUDERDALE, FL-It was only last week that Sarasota developer John McDonald, as managing partner, firmed up an agreement with Starwood Hotels & Resorts of White Plains, NY to operate the new $160-million St. Regis Hotel and Residences.

Upon opening in 2002, it will feature 234 guest rooms, 20 private club units and 29 penthouse residences in the tower.

Now McDonald has struck a deal with Motwani family members to replace their two 1950s-built hotels, the Gold Coast and the Merrimac, with a facility that would contain 240 hotel rooms and 80 timeshare units.

The new development, operating as the Gold Coast Merrimac Beach Hotel and run by a major chain still to be announced, would rise on a 1.8-acre N. Atlantic Boulevard site between Windamar and Terramar Streets.

Preliminary plans, slated to be reviewed by the city next week, call for a five-story structure fronting State Road A1A, and a 24-story tower behind it, sloping away from the beach in terrace fashion. A driveway and entrance to the hotel would separate the two buildings, which would be linked by a canopy and skywalk. There is yet no firm construction cost for the investment or a targeted starting date.

Although McDonald is involved in both new hotels, the locations are 10 blocks apart. According to an attorney involved in setting up the Gold Coast Merrimac JV between McDonald and the Motwanis, the St. Regis will target the ultra-luxury market while the Gold Coast Merrimac will be “a notch below that.”

Meanwhile, unidentified backers are reportedly close to obtaining a building permit for a 16-story property to be known as the Marquis Hotel. The Horizon Hotel once occupied the now vacant project site, on the block immediately north of the planned Gold Coast Merrimac.

The fourth new project, a 22-story condominium hotel to be known as Fortune House, is already under construction at 505 N. Atlantic Blvd. Plans for a fifth hotel, the 15-story all-timeshare Ocean Dunes at 545 S. Atlantic Blvd., gained city approvals more than a year ago but work has still not started.

Although the last new Fort Lauderdale beachfront hotel, the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort, opened 16 years ago, Marriott added an 18-story timeshare to the complex in 1997 and finished a major renovation of the original facility just this year.

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