Margaritaville comes full circle with ‘ground zero’ Key West hotel

Margaritaville Hotels and Resorts, the brand owned by musician Jimmy Buffett, is opening a property in Key West, Fla., by way of a full-scale repositioning. Hotel resort and management company Ocean Properties Hotels, Resorts & Affiliates built the property 22 years ago and has owned it ever since, and now the company is working with Margaritaville to breathe new life into the resort.

“This is ground zero for Jimmy Buffett,” said Mark Walsh, VP of Ocean Properties. “His brand fits the Key West vacation style of laid back, quality fun. It fits to a T.”

Walsh remembers when Ocean built the hotel because it corresponded with the birth of his son. Now 22 years later, Walsh is eager to give the hotel a full-color facelift to align it with the Margaritaville name, postulating that the resort’s new identity will have more of a connection to Key West than its previous moniker.

“We operated the hotel at a high level before, and hope to build on what we had before with the energy Margaritaville adds to it, which complements a little more fun and relaxation,” he said.

Right Opportunity

For Dan Leonard, president of Margaritaville Hospitality Group, getting to work on this hotel is a long time coming. Margaritaville opened its first restaurant in 1987 in Key West, but it hasn’t brought a hotel to the seaside town until now.

“I’ve been [with Margaritaville] for 18 years… back when we had two restaurants our CEO used to think we would be a great resort brand,” Leonard said. “It was a dream for me 18 years ago, and to see and experience it now it’s a bit overwhelming and exciting. It feels like full circle.”

Leonard is happy with the “bones” of the hotel, but Margaritaville is set to bring its own influence to the resort through pops of color and a greater emphasis on music and live entertainment. The refresh will also add more food-and-beverage options to the resort, as well as more experiential-based activities for guests, such as snorkeling, nature tours, jet skis, parasailing and more. Because Jimmy Buffett owns the brand, music is an integral aspect of Margaritaville, and Leonard is dead set on including it in as many areas of the property as he can.

“We want to see people tapping their feet and singing, even as they walk in the lobby,” he said.

Key West seems like the Mecca for a brand named “Margaritaville,” and according to Leonard it was always a goal to run a resort here; the company was simply holding out for the right opportunity.

“We had two restaurants at first in Key West and in Orlando, but we always knew we were a hotel brand,” he said. “It took time for the right opportunity to arise. We waited for the right partners and the right location, which came at the right time in Key West. We simply didn’t want to force it.”

Expanding Paradise

When Ocean Properties set out to build the Westin in Key West, financing a resort in the market was a struggle compared to today. “It was difficult to get your hands on financing then, though if you already had a hotel in the market you could get all the financing in the world,” Walsh said. “But we didn’t need any for the renovation this time around.”

Ocean Properties’ development pipeline is active in Florida, with a new independent resort on the way for the state’s Hutchinson Island. The property is the Margaritaville’s counterpart, a secluded 100-room hideaway nestled in a unique area. “In certain locations, like this one, having an independent really meets what the market is looking for,” Walsh said. “We wanted a design and look that felt right as an independent. Aside from that we are looking at another location with Margaritaville, something we are coming up with for later this year.”

Margaritaville is in the midst of a number of expansion efforts in locations that may not be immediately apparent given the brand’s waterfront imagery. Besides a property in Grand Cayman on track to open in March and a resort in Orlando scheduled to open by the end of 2017, a Nashville hotel is preparing for a 2018 opening.

In addition, the brand has hotels already open in Bossier City, La.; Biloxi, Miss.; Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; and Hollywood and Pensacola Beach, Fla.

Leonard said the brand is using the Margaritaville name to the best of its abilities.

“The net is cast wide,” Leonard said. “Margaritaville means different things to different people. You won’t find a prototypical Margaritaville resort. In the great Smokey Mountains and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., we have a property that makes great use of fireplaces, but you know you’re in a Margaritaville whether you are on the beach or the streets of Nashville.”