Neil S. Sazant is a real estate investor and developer. He is currently President of Martin W. Taplin & Associates, Inc. a company who has bought, managed and/or sold over $6,000,000,000 of every kind of real estate throughout the United States. In addition while working with Martin Taplin, Neil developed several key pieces of real estate in South Florida, including an office building on Brickell Avenue and the rehabilitation and development of the boutique hotel, The Sagamore. This hotel is located on the ocean in Miami Beach next to the Ritz Carlton and Delano Hotels. His current project is a mixed use development in Bay Harbor Islands which includes, office, retail, residential and the new Starwood Hotel concept, Aloft by W Hotels.
How did you get into the hospitality industry?
We are a third generation family real estate business. We purchased the historic Sagamore Hotel in 1997 and completely renovated and redeveloped it for a reopening in 2001.
Tell us about The Sagamore. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the hotel?
The Sagamore, originally built in 1948, is a boutique hotel on the ocean in Miami Beach. Today, It is known as The Art Hotel which incidentally happened organically. When we completed construction we were negotiating with several management company’s and accordingly were not sure as what to do with the lobby from an FFE standpoint. We essentially had a “vanilla box,” white Thasos marble floors and white walls. My mother-in-law Cricket Taplin decided to hang some of the contemporary artwork from her collection as a temporary solution, in essence creating a gallery. It became such a big hit that the hotel immediately became known for the art collection. At the time this was the very first commercial real estate development to utilize art in its public spaces.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to The Sagamore's success?
We continually strive to position ourselves to be available and comfortable for all types of customers and demographics, from the cool hipsters who want to party for the weekend, to families that come down to vacation with their children (keep in mind, every guest room in our hotel is a one bedroom suite with a pull-out sofa so there is space for every member of the family) and to those interested in cultural tourism. Today, Miami has so many cultural destinations from the many great museums and architecture to the Adrienne Arsht Center, which all provide great options for tourists.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Miami Beach is growing up and the hotel competition is getting more intense, especially in the high-end luxury market. The trend on the beach in the past was primarily hotels with small rooms and minimal furniture and club-like restaurants, however with cultural tourism and a more sophisticated traveler arriving, the market is changing. We feel we are uniquely situated for this market especially with our art collection and the fact that we are a smaller boutique hotel with personalized service. We are also beginning a room refresh with all new bathrooms and FF&E, along with a new signature restaurant to be announced shortly.
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.
The Sagamore's Motto?
Be timeless, comfortably luxurious without pretention or intimidation and of course a friendly staff.
Your greatest success as Proprietor of The Sagamore? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Our greatest success is our brand and how hotel has become known around the world. For a small 92 room hotel to have the international acclaim and recognition that it does is truly unbelievable.
Our most difficult moment was when the economy turned in 2009. We learned that in all our real estate properties we really needed to become more efficient from an operational standpoint, cross-train our employees and reduce expenses. We worked with our management company to create an atmosphere where many different employees became proficient at different job functions. Now with the market strong, we have keep these expenses at the same 2009 levels without hurting service, thus resulting in more profitability.
Your advice to an aspiring hotelier?
I always says it’s like a Broadway show, be prepared for everything and anything on a daily basis!
Describe the ideal experience at The Sagamore.
An ideal experience for our guests is to begin their day with breakfast on the back veranda directly over-looking the ocean. Schedule an art tour with one of our in house docents and learn about the history behind the many pieces in the collection and then, of course, relax on the beach enjoying the sun and ocean for an afternoon of relaxation. Our goal is to pamper our guests and create an atmosphere so the guests to feel like the Sagamore is their “home away from home.”
How important are architecture/design to the success of The Sagamore?
Design and architecture are completely intertwined with the Sagamore’s identity. We are known as The Art Hotel and our collection of contemporary, cutting-edge art is what defines our aesthetic along with the historic nature of the property.
How do you motivate your employees?
We are a family business and we treat our employees like they are members of our family. Very rarely do we experience turnover at the hotel, which I think is attributed to that mindset.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Fresh sushi and water.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I wish I had more time to read, however, with my kids (12 and 14) extra-curricular activities, sports and homework there is not enough time in the day!
My passion is helping kids in inner-city Miami kids get off the streets, perform better in school and get involved in sports teams in order to stay out of trouble. Because of my involvement, my daughter Sydney, 14, created her own charity, The PROMises Project, where she raises money to provide prom dresses and accessories to deserving inner- city high school students who have been through terrible hardships.
Favorite travel destination?
Every summer we take our kids on a family vacation to learn about the world and different cultures. Last summer we went to Italy. Although my wife and I had been there previously, experiencing the history and culture though a child’s eye is priceless.
What's next for The Sagamore?
At the property itself, as I mentioned we are upgrading our rooms with all new FF&E and installing a new signature restaurant. On a bigger scale, hopefully developing more Sagamore, the Art Hotel in New York and Los Angeles.