DAYTONA BEACH — After nearly a decade of waiting, the doors are open at Daytona Grande, part of the controversy-ridden, much-delayed $192 million Protogroup twin-tower hotel-condominium project.
The hotel, part of the biggest, most expensive development project in Daytona Beach history, was expected to welcome its first guests on Friday, according to front-desk staff.
But they will arrive at a 27-story 455-room hotel that doesn’t yet offer a functioning fitness room, pool, walkway to the beach or other amenities.
“We had a very soft opening this week, with just a few rooms,” said Keith Toomer, the hotel’s assistant general manager on Friday, two days after the hotel opened. “We are definitely excited.”
Looking at the hotel from North Atlantic Avenue, where construction workers on tall ladders still labored on electrical wiring behind chain link fences on Friday morning, there’s no indication that the hotel is welcoming guests.
The glass-enclosed street-level storefronts where an array of shops are someday expected to beckon visitors remain dark, except for the presence of a temporary sign that marks the offices of Protogroup Inc., the family-run Palm Coast-based company whose Russian owners are developing the project.
Alexey Lysich, the company’s president, was working in that office on Friday morning, but dismissed a News-Journal reporter’s request for a tour of the hotel’s rooms and other guest areas.
“Are you planning to check-in?” Lysich said. Otherwise, “send me a request.”
In recent months, Lysich and Protogroup’s Daytona Beach attorney, Rob Merrell, haven’t responded to numerous voicemail, text and email requests from The News-Journal for updates on the project or tours to assess its progress.
Such a request had been made early on Friday morning.
Merrell also could not be reached by email on Friday to discuss the hotel’s opening.
The scene on Friday contrasted with images on the hotel’s website, daytonagrande.com.
There, the hotel trumpets its “refined accommodations, exceptional service, and a wide variety of dining options” and its membership in the Preferred Hotels & Resorts LVX Collection. Rooms were available to book for $243 a night for Preferred members, $250 for others.
A representative of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a worldwide hotel management company with headquarters in Chicago and Newport Beach, Calif., couldn’t be reached by phone or email on Friday.
On the website, the featured image was an aerial shot of the hotel that included a photo-shopped addition of the project’s planned 31-story North Tower condominium building, a portion of the project that in reality hasn’t progressed beyond its foundation.
The back story:
Upon completion, the North Tower would be the tallest building in Volusia County.
On Friday, there also were workers on two lift trucks adding finishing touches to the hotel signage on the circular driveway outside the lobby entrance on the north side of the hotel.
Inside the double glass doors, two escalators and nearly three-dozen tile-encrusted steps on a towering staircase led to the main-floor of the tiered three-level lobby. Only the upward escalator was working.
The décor suggested a beach scene with its mix of blue, white and sand-colored walls, carpet and furniture. Light fixtures resembled coral formations or jellyfish and vibrantly colored oversized paintings depicted underwater scenes.
A dozen high-back chairs awaited patrons at the hotel bar, overlooking floor-to-ceiling picture windows over the ocean. Around a corner behind the front desk, hotel workers congregated in the hotel restaurant. It wasn’t clear whether the restaurant or the bar are operational yet.
Elsewhere, maintenance crews polished floors and installed lighting in areas where some furniture remained in its plastic wrapping.
Outside, the pool had yet to be filled and pedestrian beach access was blocked.
The City of Daytona Beach a week ago revised its temporary certificate of occupancy to allow the opening of hotel rooms, the restaurant and the lobby area, said Susan Cerbone, city spokeswoman.
The temporary certificate expires on Aug. 31.
“The banquet rooms and fitness center were not included in the TCO,” she said.
The new hotel earned high praise this week from Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. Davis toured the hotel on Thursday, accompanied by Jonathan Abraham Eid, CEO of Vienna Capital, new owners of the nearby Plaza Resort & Spa.
“It’s incredible,” Davis said. “The lobby is breathtaking, unbelievable. It’s one of the top resorts that I’ve been in whether it’s in Vegas or South Beach. The rooms are just awesome, overlooking the ocean and the river. It’s a very upscale and well put-together class hotel, something Daytona Beach has not seen.”
Eid echoed that opinion.
“It’s a beautiful property,” he said. “We’re glad to have more development in the Daytona area, in Volusia County, and we think they did a great job with the hotel. We’re excited to have them as our neighbors and hopefully more construction and new development in the future comes for the Daytona market on Atlantic Avenue. There’s so much happening.”
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There also was optimism from Sheriff Guindi, vice president of residential and commercial sales for Realty Pros Commercial in Ormond Beach. Guindi said that the company will be opening a sales model center for the project’s condominium units on the 27th-floor of the hotel in June.
“We’re already up to 15 sales and we haven’t even really started our marketing campaign,” Guindi said. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re looking forward to a successful sales process.”
Protogroup plan has history of controversies
The opening of the hotel is a significant milestone for a project that has endured a long series of controversies and delays since Protogroup bought the property at the intersection of Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue in 2012.
In August 2020, Protogroup parted ways with Port St. Lucie-based Gryffin Construction Corp., the second general contractor on the high-profile project.
Gryffin took over construction of the Protogroup’s twin tower project in October 2018, following the abrupt departure of the original contractor, Mississippi-based W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company.
In December 2020, the city of Daytona Beach granted yet another extension for completion of the project, just ahead of a previous Jan. 29, 2021 deadline for completion of the project’s South Tower. The city extended that deadline to March 18, 2022.
An extension also was granted by the city on the deadline for completion of the North Tower, which now faces a deadline of March 16, 2024.
Along the way, the project also stirred up the ire of local residents with a proposed valet lane that would have cut west across oncoming traffic at the Oakridge-Atlantic Avenue intersection.
In October, the developer started unauthorized construction on the controversial valet parking lane at the east end of Oakridge, work that was started without notice on an expired Florida Department of Transportation permit. Ultimately, the lane was removed at the developer’s expense.
At different points, the project also ran into problems when it closed a required beach access pedestrian walkway on the northern boundary of the construction site. Most recently, the walkway was closed for a time in March just as Bike Week visitors started to arrive for the annual 10-day event.
Controversies involving the developer also have extended beyond the construction site.
A federal lawsuit filed in 2018 against Protogroup includes an Internal Revenue Service report that questioned Lysich’s claim that he paid a Bahamas shell company $710,000 for an estimated $71 million in fruits and vegetables in 2014. The IRS stated that a deduction Lysich declared for payments to the shell company “should be disallowed in full.”
Excavation work for the twin-towers project began in March 2017, with an initial projected completion date of summer 2019 for the 27-story South Tower. The taller 31-story North Tower originally was slated for completion in 2020.