Video: Embassy Suites celebrates its progress on St. Augustine Beach hotel

While it’s still just a skeleton, the beachfront Embassy Suites at A1A Beach Boulevard is far enough along to see its great potential in one of the most scenic spots in the entire county.


The leaders of the hotel project, which is right next to the St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier, were at the property Tuesday morning for the “topping off” ceremony. It was an opportunity to showcase the progress of the construction at a time when there was enough work done to give visitors a vision of what it’s going to be.

Speaking on what will be the floor of a meeting/ballroom looking out onto the ocean, St. Augustine Beach Embassy Suites general manager Justin Nels is clear about what he thinks the hotel will become once it opens in the first quarter of 2018.

“This will be the nicest Embassy Suites in America,” Nels said. “I think people have been trying over the years to build something like this.

“I think the owners had the foresight to say hey there was a hotel here before let’s buy that land and build this beautiful resort. When you look up and down the coast, there’s nothing like this.”

Indeed, there is no beachfront hotel south of the Ponte Vedra Beach area that will be able to match the scale of the new hotel, which will contain 175 rooms and have 7,500 square feet of indoor meeting space as well as 10,000 square feet of outdoor meeting space.

Right in the heart of St. Augustine Beach, the Embassy Suites will replace the old Beachfront Hotel, which suffered from flooding damage and neglect. It was very poorly rated by travelers at the end of its lifespan and was demolished in 2014. The hotel started as a Sheraton Inn in 1974.

Replacing that unpopular hotel was not without some controversy, though. Some residents were upset that the St. Augustine Beach Planning and Zoning Board approved the hotel with a height of 53 feet, above the general guideline of a 35-foot height limit in the city.

Building officials argued that because the building must be elevated for flood insurance purposes, the starting point for measuring the 35 feet should be set at the first floor of habitable space rather than the ground.

But Diego Ardid, president of Key International, the company that bought the property, said he’s heard mostly positive comments from the community.

“I think it’s going to good for everybody,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an amenity that the city can enjoy.”

Ardid also expects it to be extremely successful for his company. He’s been part of deals like the $350 million acquisition of the Eden Roc Miami Beach, and the company has also developed smaller hotels in places like Gainesville and New Smyrna Beach.

But the opportunity to build a new beachfront hotel in a market that has nothing like what the new Embassy Suites will be was a “no brainer” decision for Ardid.

“Every time we come up here, we felt like it was lacking a great resort on the beach,” he said. “We had the opportunity that this property came up for sale and we didn’t think twice. We said, ‘Wow, what an opportunity.’ We moved on this and we couldn’t be happier to be here.

“A property of this scale in Florida, toes in the sand, is almost impossible to find.”

The hotel will also be a boon for the Embassy Suites brand, said Alan Roberts, the vice president and global head of Embassy Suites by Hilton.

Roberts said the St. Augustine Beach property will be one of just five beachfront resorts in the brand’s portfolio of 234 current hotels.

“You have to have these sexy resort beachfront places for people to want to (visit) to give your hotel brand the diversity that guests expect and want,” he said. “I’m thrilled to see where this hotel is. You don’t get locations like where this is every day.”

Richard Goldman, president and CEO of the St. Johns County visitors and convention bureau, said having an upscale hotel like the Embassy Suites will help the area draw more affluent visitors.

He added that visitors here tend to come from households with incomes of $100,000 or more, and 65 percent of them have a college degree. With that level of income and education, those visitors tend to be discerning and are looking for the kind of classy hotel experience the new Embassy Suites is expected to offer.

“As our visitors have become increasingly sophisticated, their expectations for unique experiences delivered dependably and with quality have risen accordingly,” Goldman said.