Colony Capital is making a big bet that Sam Nazarian's SBE outfit is the future in boutique hotels and entertainment. The company, which already is a major investor on Fairmont Raffles, has acquired a minority stake in SBE, which operates the SLS hotel brand, for $35 million. Nazarian is known for his hip clubs, which include Hyde Lounge and the Colony, and three hotels in Los Angeles, one in Miami's South Beach and the Sahara casino in Las Vegas.
Word is that Nazarian's SLS brand was a major reason for the deal, as Colony believes the brand is poised to succeed in the boutique hotel segment, even as it gets ever more crowded by the day (think Schrager and Branson). According to the Wall Street Journal, "Colony's bet is that Nazarian can do a better job drawing the young, upscale crowds." "It's a bet on the jockey," Thomas Barrack, Colony's chairman and CEO, told the Journal. "People want to stay at somebody's property and share in their expertise, hospitality and vision." Speaking to Bloomberg, Barrack said, “Our intent is to be a large capital facilitator to enable SBE to embark on a shopping spree through the rubble and wreckage of a stretched industry, and do those bold things that others would not consider."
“We have to solidify our brand outside our home base in other markets and have to show growth of four or five of our key brands,” Nazarian also told Bloomberg, signaling a possible IPO by 2014.
SBE is certainly ready to go. It is buying a site in Manhattan for a hotel and, in September, opened The Redbury in Los Angeles, which commands rates over $250 per night. After a dismal 2009/2010, occupancies and average daily rates are inching up in the luxury sector based primarily on rebounding business and leisure travel.