St. Augustine Record: Revitalized Sawgrass Village

Revitalized Sawgrass Marriott, Sawgrass Village to be on display in time for The Players Championship

By STUART KORFHAGE, St. Augustine Record

By the time golf fans start pouring through the entrance to TPC Sawgrass in two months, the area will have a fresh look thanks to the completion of a couple of major projects in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The renowned Sawgrass Marriott is nearing the conclusion of a two-year, $48 million face-lift.

And just across PGA Tour Boulevard, a newly redeveloped Sawgrass Village is emerging from the construction rubble. The Sawgrass Village work is being done by the Ervin Lovett Miller planning, architecture and landscape-architecture firm.

While neither project is taking place solely because of the popular PGA Tour event, getting them mostly complete in time to shine on an international stage is a priority.

“[Ponte Vedra Beach] has always been set apart as a destination ... this just helps enhance that whole experience,” said Russell Ervin, ELM principal and lead designer on the project. “That was the intent, taking a 1980s-vintage center and bringing it up to current date.”

The fact that the village and the Marriott are making such major improvements at the same time means they should complement each other. Ervin described the area as the “front door” to the PGA Tour and The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Ervin and others have seen the struggles of the Marriott in recent years and are watching the re-emergence. The property went through bankruptcy proceedings in 2011 with previous ownership. A new group purchased the property for about $85 million in 2014. The hotel is now owned by CWI Sawgrass Hotel LLC, which is an affiliate of Carey Watermark Investors Inc., a publicly registered real estate investment trust that was formed to make investments primarily in the lodging and lodging-related sectors.

The group has made significant investments in modernizing the hotel and its amenities.

“We’re very cognizant of their presence there,” Ervin said. “Through the years, the ownership has changed. It’s exciting to hear something is going to happen.”

Dan McCarron, director of sales and marketing at the Sawgrass Marriott, said he knows people who might have stayed at the hotel five or 10 years ago are going to be impressed with the changes being made.

“They see all the wonderful enhancements we’re doing here,” he said. “They see how eager and energized everyone is. We don’t see this solely as a Sawgrass Marriott revitalization. We see this as distinguishing Ponte Vedra as a destination that others will want to go to.”

A glance at some online reviews paints a picture of a hotel that appeared to have lost its grandeur. Almost all the reviews that are from at least a year ago use the word “dated” — even the positive ones.

Improvements being made to the 511-room resort include pool renovation and modernizing the front desk area, hotel façade, the Sawgrass Spa and Cabana Beach Club.

The Marriott is also creating a butler-serviced guest wing and launching The American Gator Club restaurant. The restaurant, one of eight on the property off PGA Tour Boulevard or the beachfront Cabana Club, overlooks the 13th hole of The Stadium Course.

By May, when the golf tournament is scheduled, the hotel façade will have a fresh color, and guest rooms will have been expanded, with Juliet balconies replaced by oversized sliding windows.

Guests coming in May are also expected to be able to take advantage of the new businesses right in front of the Marriott in the Sawgrass Village. McCarron said the renovated shopping center will serve as another draw for the Marriott.

Phase two of Sawgrass Village’s redevelopment began in early 2015 with the demolition of several office buildings. The demolition of the office buildings and the lakefront shops made way for a new lakefront restaurant — recently announced as Nona Blue Modern Tavern — and new retail buildings. Nona Blue is scheduled to open in time for The Players.

The Aqua Grill, a 5,000-square-foot lakefront restaurant, opened in its new location in October, the same month that interior tenant buildouts began in Building E.

Pineapple Post became the first tenant open for business in Building E and was joined this year by J. Turner & Company, a locally owned furniture and home accessories boutique. It opened across from Caffé Andiamo. Another 12,000 square feet of tenant construction is underway.

All of the work with the shopping center and the Marriott is expected to be finished by the end of the summer, including the addition of the SurfStream wave simulator, adjacent to the primary resort pool. The Cabana Club renovations will be finished in the summer, too, including an improved entrance, fresh landscaping, a new roof, resurfaced brick-paved walkways and the resurfacing of both pools and adjacent patios.

McCarron said the new touches are what customers demand from top-notch hotels.

“We have that capability; we’re taking that to the next level and with that, creating a competitive advantage for the Sawgrass Marriott,” he said.

With the changes in technology, hotels are forced to continuously adapt to offer new services people expect. One example is the entertainment systems in the rooms. McCarron said the 55-inch televisions will all stream Netflix, so customers can watch the same shows they’re used to seeing at home.

“All these technological influences demand obviously that hotels refresh more frequently than I think in the past,” McCarron said.

All the improvements should add up to returning the property to its status as a special place. McCarron said it’s already happening.

“We love having the reputation we have in Ponte Vedra Beach,” he said. “But we need to defend that. We challenge our staff, and we have one of the highest service scores in all the Marriott network. And we need to maintain to deliver what folks are expecting.”

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