Hotel Review: STREAMSONG RESORT

BY RON BERNTHAL

Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)–
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

Fragmentary Blue
Robert Frost

Driving the last few miles to Streamsong is an ethereal experience. I am in central Florida, less than two hours from the tourism clutter of Orlando, an hour from Tampa’s busy commercial scene, but after passing through the busy suburbs outside Disneyworld, past vegetable and citrus farms, the terrain changes again, with one-block towns reminiscent of 1950’s Florida, a gas station, post office, a few shops selling dry goods and small engines, the small black dots on Florida’s state map that few tourists ever pass through. This is Florida’s mining country, an area encompassing three rural counties – Polk, Hardee and Desoto – where phosphate mining has been the dominant industry since the late 1800’s, and where rail tracks and cracked cement back roads crisscross the region, still carrying freight trains and trucks laden with sand and dry, pebbly phosphate.

Historic train station in Bowling Green, Florida, located a few miles from Streamsong Resort.

Approaching Streamsong I am enveloped by the landscape, a huge sky with beautiful billowing clouds, a treeless horizon that stretches forever, my car following a two-lane shimmering heat haze that seems to lead nowhere. But the road swings sharply left, and beyond the wavering tall grass a building suddenly appears, a large, odd-shaped, six story weatherized steel structure with a wall of windows overlooking a lake and 16,000 acres of a reclaimed phosphate mine. It is a startling sight.

Evening view, Streamsong (photo courtesy Streamsong Resort)

During the drive to the resort I kept my car windows open to feel the sauna-like heat but I was happy to walk into the ice-cold air-conditioning of Streamsong’s Leaf Lounge, a bright and modern lobby area located in a huge open corridor that connects the main hotel building to the conference center wing. A 20-foot floor-to-ceiling window overlooks a large lake, where bass thrive within its waters and alligators lay quietly just beneath the surface, only their eyes appearing above the placid green water. During the annual bird migrations in spring and fall the lake and surrounding grassland is a resting stop for thousands of multi-colored warblers, waterthrush, and sparrows.

Streamsong, a resort, golf and spa complex opened in January, 2014, but it was not constructed by Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt or any other hotel firm. It was constructed by The Mosaic Company, the world’s largest supplier of phosphate and potash, and one of the largest land owners in Florida. The main hotel building, called the Lodge, was originally supposed to be a small, rustic Florida-style fishing lodge, a place where Mosaic’s best corporate customers could come to fish for bass on a natural, private lake. But with deep pockets and an almost unlimited amount of their own land (they own 300,000 acres in central Florida), Mosaic decided to do something different with this particular phosphate mine reclamation project by taking the vision of creating a small, sustainable hospitality site a few big steps further by building a world class golf course, hotel, spa, conference center, dining venues, tennis courts and an infinity pool on top of the former 16,000 acre phosphate mine.

The Leaf Lounge is part of the hotel’s lobby, with stylish furniture and large windows overlooking the lake and wildlife area. (photo Ron Bernthal)

If you think the idea was crazy — that avid golfers, mostly men and women business executives, would go out of their way to travel to a unknown, desolate region of Florida and golf, sleep and eat over a former phosphate mine — then you need to visit Streamsong to see how the project worked out.

The Lodge (216 guest rooms) and Clubhouse (12 guest rooms at the golf course location a mile down the road) was designed by architect Alberto Alfonso using weatherizing steel, glass and locally sourced wood products. Guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, unique walnut louvers to control window light, and lovely brown carpeting with muted stripes of color. I enjoyed the dual, 32” HD-TV screens, one side facing the living room, the other side facing the guest room bed. A large marble-top work desk with several audio, video, and electric inputs, and a modern couch and black leather and wood desk chair made the room very comfortable. There is free, high speed WiFi throughout the property.

There are two sinks in the bathroom, an in-room fridge, and a custom-made, hand-crafted bookshelf with ten hardcover titles. One of the books (placed in every room) is A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith, a story about how Florida was settled. Each room contains museum-quality works of art, perhaps a charcoal drawing, a sculptured bowl, a painting or framed photograph. No two art pieces in the hotel, whether in guest rooms or public areas, are alike. In my room a beautiful Alvar Aalto-designed glass vase stands discreetly on a small shelf.

AcquaPietra is the resort’s 7,000 square-foot, grotto-style spa with seven intertwining therapeutic pools, nine treatment rooms, and a fully-equipped fitness center. The four dining venues at Streamsong include Fragmentary Blue, the Lodge’s rooftop lounge which offers small plates dining and beverage service, with indoor and outdoor seating; Restaurant Fifty-Nine, a steak and seafood-themed restaurant at the Clubhouse; SottoTerra, a fine dining restaurant serving an Italian-themed dinner menu; and P₂O₅ is a casual restaurant opening for breakfast, and continuing with traditional Floridian comfort foods like Apalachicola oysters, conch chowder and buttermilk fried chicken for lunch and dinner. P₂O₅ is named after the empirical formula for phosphorus pentoxide, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to the mining connections, and of course there are no health risks visiting the hotel or any of the outdoor facilities.

The 18,000 square-feet of flexible, indoor conference space, and another 40,000 square-feet of outdoor event space, seems perfect for a corporate meeting, conference or wedding. There is a separate entrance to the Conference Center for local attendees, while Lodge guests can access the meeting facilities directly from inside the building. The architecture of the entire complex is in the Frank Lloyd Wright-style, in the way the exterior design meshes with the landscape using earth tones, and lots of wood and stone. Both the exterior and interior of the building is understated and functional, with Mr. Alfonso using clean, simple lines and the best, natural materials to create a beautiful structure with Caribbean-influenced artwork and colors.

However, the attraction for guests is purposely not the building, but the terrain outside, as seen through the extra-large windows placed in guest rooms and public areas, which allow guests to focus on, and become part of, the sun-baked Floridian scene outside — the tall grasses, the ospreys and egrets, dragon flies and butterflies, and the birds that are a constant source of wonder — without actually having to go outside.

Guests who want to exercise can find several recreational facilities a short walk away, including the infinity outdoor pool, placed between the Lodge and the lake. Surrounded by lounge chairs and a group of sheltered cabanas, along with Hemy’s, a pool-side snack bar, the pool is a good place to relax after a golf match, or a day of meetings. There are also two outdoor tennis courts, and bass fishing and a sporting clay course are available for a supplementary fee.

Infinity pool at Streamsong overlooks the lake (photo Streamsong)

Although I am far from being a dedicated golfer, playing just once or twice a year, I enjoyed being on and around the two golf courses at Streamsong, located a two-minute drive down the resort’s private road. The Clubhouse is a beautifully designed building with 12 guest rooms, a small meeting room, a Pro Shop and the dining venue Fifty-Nine, a bar and restaurant serving three meals daily with its own chef and kitchen.

The Streamsong golf course is a traditional links course (actually two, co-mingled courses) laid out on the undulating terrain and sand hills of the reclaimed phosphate mine. Now covered with wild grasses — wiregrass, purple lovegrass, patches of Elliot’s lovegrass — with small streams meandering through and around the sand berms and soft, flat greens, the course has become a magnet for golfers who thought they could play this type of terrain only by flying to Ireland or Scotland.

The two, 18-hole, links golf courses were designed by professional course designers Bill Coore, Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw (also a former professional golfer). Streamsong Red (par- 72, 7,148 yards) and Streamsong Blue (par-72, 7,164 yards) received accolades from Golf Week, Golf Digest and numerous other sports media almost as soon as they opened in 2013, a year before the Lodge opened its doors. Much of Streamsong’s initial marketing efforts were directed to avid golfers who loved their first experience on the course and returned a year later with golf buddies and corporate clients when accommodations were available, often booking executive meetings at the resort’s Conference Center at the same time.

In January, 2015, the property announced plans to build a third course, which will open in fall 2017. The third course, to be called Streamsong Black, is being designed by Gil Hanse, architect of The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, and co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland, among others. Streamsong Black will be built directly southeast of the two existing courses, Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue, and with the addition of Streamsong Black the resort will become the only location in the world where guests can enjoy three distinct courses designed by these four legendary architects. The resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black when it opens in 2017.

Streamsong Blue is built over a reclaimed phosphate mine, with the sand hills, clay soil and wild grasses helping to form a perfect links course. View is of Blue #7 hole. (photo courtesy Streamsong Resort)

The unique aspects of Streamsong are not only the stunning, esoteric architecture of the Lodge and the traditional links golf course, but that a large mining company, Mosaic, found a way to reuse the former phosphate mine for an upscale resort that is providing employment opportunities for a local population even as the once-stable mining jobs in the region are decreasing. During my visit I spoke with many resort employees, including pastry chefs, wait staff, front desk clerks, conference managers and spa attendants, men and women of various ages, often former phosphate mine workers, who were happy to be trained in hospitality work and who now enjoy using their new skills in a resort environment. The property has developed many sustainable policies, and as Streamsong becomes more well-known among business and leisure travelers, the additional visitors purchasing goods and services in this low-income, rural area of Florida will surely increase revenue for the merchants in nearby communities.

Streamsong Red, #17 (photo Streamsong)

After a late dinner on my last night at Streamsong I visited Fragmentary Blue, the rooftop lounge with a 365-degree view of the surrounding landscape. The bartenders were cleaning up, getting ready to close, but I was able to order a cold beer and sit outside on the terrace. The night was balmy and clear with a million stars overhead, the sounds of frogs and crickets emanating from the darkness six stories below reminded me of the Caribbean, and the soft reggae music the staff was playing on the PA system inside the bar added to the “island” ambiance. At that moment, if someone had said that we were sitting on top of a former phosphate mine in central Florida, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Fragmentary Blue is the resort’s rooftop lounge, and the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with tapas and drinks . (photo Streamsong)

Streamsong
1000 Streamsong Drive
Bowling Green, FL 33834
(863) 428-1000
www.streamsongresort.com

Hotel Review: Turnberry Isle Miami

Turnberry Isle Miami

Review by Ron Bernthal

Spending a weekend at Turnberry Isle was like stepping back 50 years in time, to a period in Miami’s history when several large, Mediterranean-style resorts welcomed northern families laden with a dozen suitcases, golf bags, wooden tennis rackets, and a nanny for the kids.

The entry driveway at this iconic resort is still lined with palm trees, the main building is still centered around the original, sprawling banyan tree, and part of the property’s 300 tropical acres include a chef’s garden filled with mango, pomegranate and avocado trees, as well as sweet smelling herbs like chocolate mint, oregano, Chinese chives and fennel.

When the resort was constructed in 1967 this region of north Miami Beach was mostly sand, mangrove trees and swampland, but today, with the proliferation of nearby condominiums and upscale shopping centers, Turnberry Isle is truly an oasis of calm and timelessness just 20 minutes from downtown Miami.

Upon arrival a valet driver swooped in to take my car, a porter grabbed my one, small bag, and staff at the front desk provided a room key, offered ice water and lemon, and escorted me to my room in the Magnolia Wing (there are four clusters of accommodations, including the Hibiscus, Orchid, and Jasmine Wings). My room on the 4th floor was spacious, with hardwood floors at the entrance and plush carpeting inside. A marble bathroom offered a a small, flat screen television and a third dual-lined telephone, separate bathtub and glass shower stall with a rainfall shower head. In the room was a flat screen TV, Keurig coffee system, free Wi-Fi, and a balcony that overlooked part of the Soffer golf course and the resort’s signature 18th-hole Island Green and 64-foot waterfall.

Hisbiscus Deluxe Golf View room (photo courtesy Turnberry Isle Miami)

During my visit I had an opportunity to have dinner at Bourbon Steak, the resort’s fine dining venue, where noted chef and restaurateur Michael Mina has established a nicely designed steak house that is popular with guests as well as Miami residents. Famous for its American Wagyu and 40-day, dry-age steaks (which can cost as much as $90 per steak), my smaller 8-ounce filet mignon was tender and delicious.

Turnberry has 408 guest rooms, and enough activities to keep families or business groups busy without leaving the property. The Laguna pool is family-friendly, with a water slide and other kid attractions. My only disappointment of the weekend came at this pool, when I attempted to use the water slide in the morning, before I had to leave the property, only to find out that the slide wouldn’t open for another hour. Much like a six year-old, I was devastated. The Cascata pool is adults only, and remains quiet throughout the day. The two-story Spa and Fitness Center offers treatment rooms, sauna and steam facilities, and a large cardio fitness area. Although the resort is not on the ocean, a shuttle service transports guests a short distance to a private section of beachfront equipped with a seaside grill, beach chairs, cabanas, and other amenities.

                               

Breakfast at Turnberry Isle is served in the Cascata Grille, a two-minute walk from the lobby and next to the Miller course, the resort’s second 18-hole professional golf course. This is a casual restaurant with a nice outdoor terrace, and serves lunch and dinner as well as a lovely buffet breakfast. One wall near the entrance is covered with dozens of framed, black and white photographs showing former guests, including Frank Sinatra, Andy Warhol, Sugar Ray Leonard, Princess Caroline, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, and Bill Cosby.

 

 

Many of the 1960′s and 70′s- era celebrities in the photos are shown embracing Turnberry Isle founder Donald Soffer, who not only created the resort but the nearby Aventura Mall, and many of the residential and commercial buildings that now form the upscale suburb of Aventura. The Soffer family still owns the property, another sign that this historic and enduring south Florida resort will continue to provide a Miami vacation experience that exempflies the impeccable, service, glamour, and style that has almost disappeared from today’s resort properties.

Contact:

Turnberry Isle Miami

19999 West Country Club Drive

Aventura, FL 33180

Phone: 855-777-6594

www.turnberryislemiami.com

Miami Journal: Is MiMo Next for Historic District Revitalization?

BY RON BERNTHAL

MiMo photos © Ron Bernthal

In 2006 Miami’s Historic Preservation Board voted to create a historic district along one of the city’s most iconic thoroughfares. Twenty-seven blocks of Biscayne Boulevard, including 115 historic buildings, would become known as MiMo, aka the Miami Modern- Biscayne Boulevard Historic District. The MiMo Historic District runs along Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 50th Street to Northeast 77th Street.

The two main architectural styles of the district are Mediterranean Revival, which includes most of the residences and commercial buildings between 55th and 60th Streets, in the Bayshore subdivision, and Art Deco, represented mostly by a cluster of two and three-story motels and mixed-use buildings, between NE 71st and 74th Streets. There are about 16 Art Deco-style motels that have survived demolition along the highly trafficked corridor of Biscayne Boulevard. Some of these structures still maintain their multi-colored neon signs, on high pylons or building facades, which constitute the most memorable architectural component of early Miami tourist facilities in this part of the city.

There were hundreds of such motels built in the Miami area from the 1920′s to the early 1940′s. During this period, even Miami gas stations imitated the Art Deco look of the motels, although only one, the Gulf Station at 17th Avenue and Coral Way, has survived, and is still a working gas station!

Many of Miami’s 1920′s Mediterranean-Revival buildings were swept away during the hurricane of 1926, and more were demolished by developers during the urban renewal projects following World War II. Others succumbed to the heat, moisture, humidity and salt that has plagued Miami structures of all types since the earliest settlements in the 1800′s.

Thanks to the recent historic designation of this formerly overlooked section of NE Miami, two strip mall shopping centers have opened nearby– Antiques Plaza and 20th Century Row — with shops specializing in Miami Modern furnishings from the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s. Savvy shoppers can find authentic T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings furniture; Tommi Parzinger lacquered cabinets from the 1950′s; and Milo Baughman steel-framed leather lounge chairs from the 1960′s, often at lower prices than in New York or Los Angeles.

 

During a recent visit to Miami I drove up and down the stretch of Biscayne Boulevard that lies within the MiMo District. Many of the original midcentury Art Deco motels are either closed, or inexpensive, gritty-looking transient joints, with rooms rented by young, adventurous Europeans on a tight budget, or by local street walkers who bring johns into the dreary rooms, the windows covered by thick curtains to keep out the harsh sunlight and peering eyes of, let’s say, midcentury architecture fans. Historic midcentury residential houses on the blocks just off Biscayne were in better shape, and many of the smaller cottage homes have been restored into lovely, bougainvillea-covered bungalows.

Certainly, MiMo is not yet South Beach, where formerly decrepit Art Deco buildings were transformed more than two decades ago into trendy and expensive hotels and restaurants. It is also far, in development terms, from the midcentury buildings of upper Collins Avenue, where the 1954 Fontainebleau Hotel, designed by Morris Lapidus, was awarded the “Best Building in Florida 2012″ by the American Institute of Architects.

Those areas have Atlantic Ocean beaches and cooling breezes. MiMo is landlocked, and Biscayne Boulevard is a hot and noisy commercial stretch that drivers use to get from North Miami Beach to downtown, without paying much attention to the faded pastel motels lining the road.

Miami, however, has had great success with revitalizing historic sections of the
City, most recently the resurgence of the Wynwood and Design District neighborhoods, and architectural restorations and new business ventures are slowly, but steadily, giving the MiMo Historic District a chance to both preserve its history and obtain a measure of economic prosperity.