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How Covid-19 Has Changed Wellness Real Estate And Hospitality Forever

Indian born-developer Dilip Barot vividly remembers the day he first learned to meditate. That was also the day he began to understand what it means to be mindful and present in the world.

Growing up in Gujarat on India’s northwest coast, Dilip lived with his parents and seven siblings in a tiny, two-room 300 SF apartment above a Hindu temple with a library next door. At the time, Dilip was five.

“My mother would send me downstairs to the temple every morning,” the now 63-year old real estate entrepreneur recalls, “And have me place 5,000 leaves—one at a time—at the feet of a statue of the Indian god Shiva (the Lord of Meditation and Destroyer of Evil). At first, I didn’t know what the point was. But over time I began to understand its value: my mother was teaching me to meditate. While many people have a perception that ‘meditation’ is sitting with your legs crossed and eyes closed, my mother taught me “meditation in motion”—namely, learning to enjoy and experience each moment with your eyes wide open while respecting and savoring everything around you.” 

Nearly six decades and 20 million square feet of real estate later, Dilip has taken that early schooling on meditation, mindfulness, motion, and wellness and wrapped it in hundreds of millions of dollars of glass and luxury on 7.5 acres of pristine Atlantic Ocean waterfront just south of Palm Beach on Florida’s Singer Island called Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences.

For Dilip and his daugthers Shama and Neera, who are the development’s co-founders along with their father, Amrit was a vision that began over 14 years ago based on the five pillars of wellness derived from the ancient Indian science known as the 8 Limbs of Patanjali: nutrition, fitness, mindfulness, relaxation, and sleep. It’s now just months away from opening and poised to become one of the most integrative wellness-centered buildings and resorts in America.

“Amrit was born out of a vision to create a place centered around personalized wellbeing and luxury not just physically, but also philosophically,” explains Dilip of Amrit’s original genesis. “We began with the goal of merging Eastern practices with Western luxuries. But as we studied the concept further, we realized that the real opportunity for us was to combine ancient wisdom with modern technology to provide our residents and guests with the tools, resources, amenities, and programming they need to live healthier, happier, and longer lives. Wellness real estate for us is that place where physical, mental and emotional wellbeing meet the amenities, technology, and design ecosystem to create an unparalleled living experience.” 

In the age of COVID-19, the Barots’ calculus that wealthy, beach-starved travelers and newly-relocated south Florida transplants from New York City and California would seek out—and pay for—the next paradigm in living well and maintaining optimum health couldn’t have been better timed.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, real estate, travel, and hospitality have been shaken down to their foundations. Sectors like commercial office space, entertainment, and business travel, particularly in large metropolitan areas already pre-organized around density, may still suffer for years to come.

Yet, domestic travel and single-family residential—especially at the luxury end in locations with access to nature and screaming hot broadband wireless—have been on fire since the second surge of the pandemic last summer with no apparent end in sight. Home values in places like Park City, UT have nearly doubled year over year. In Aspen, $25M mansions that have been rotting on the market since the Obama years are now selling over ask in all-cash bidding wars sight unseen.

The red-hot demand for pandemic “safe spaces” and places that put a premium on health and wellness has also spilled over into hotels, with 4 and 5 star resorts and boutique brands like Acqualina and Montage reporting steady occupancy rates above 85% this winter, particularly in warmer locales like Florida, Texas, and Arizona that have avoided widespread lockdowns and limited restrictions on restaurants, museums, and indoor gatherings.

“The pandemic has reinforced our belief from the beginning that people want a lifestyle focused on wellbeing,” says Shama. “It has also shown us the importance of connection. People are becoming more aware of their own community now more than ever. While we place a strong emphasis on the five pillars of wellness, there is a sixth unsaid pillar at Amrit—and that is human connection. We truly believe that positive, like-minded people help bring out the best in each other. That’s why we’ve created daily wellness programming like the ‘Satsang’—which is where guests and residents gather to reflect on the day and enjoy the healing experience of being connected to one another. Wellness isn’t just about having a spa and some cucumber water in the lobby anymore.”

Not surprisingly, Amrit’s residential pre-sales and advanced resort reservations since the pandemic began have skyrocketed, simultaneously catalyzed by a reinvigorated demand for health and wellness amenities along with a south Florida re-Renaissance that’s transformed cities like Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach into some of the hottest luxury real estate markets in the country over the past 12 months.

“Our sales velocity has doubled since COVID-19,” says Shama, “Prior to the pandemic, over 70% of our buyers were local Floridians looking for a second home on the beach or downsizing. Now the highest percentage of our buyers are coming from the Northeast and we’re now 50% pre-sold. No one could have predicted the pandemic, or what it would do to real estate and travel, but it’s changed the way people look at space, how it’s used, and the lifestyle that they want live. We just happen to be in the right location, doing the right thing, at the right time.”

Beyond the five pillars that stand at the core of the brand’s integrative wellness philosophy, Amrit’s approach to a better life also revolves around an overwhelmingly calming sense of place—which is rooted first and foremost in a direct connection to nature.

“We wanted to create our next generation wellness resort and residences in a location that reinforced our underlying philosophy about living mindfully,” Shama tells me. “In 1964 the New York Times called Singer Island an ‘Unspoiled Resort on Florida’s East Coast’, and over half a century later, this area is still relatively untouched with miles of quiet, pristine, white sandy beaches, parks, and open space. We’re also blessed by Mother Nature as the easternmost point in Florida in the Gulf Stream, so our beach grows every year—not something you typically see by the ocean in the age of climate change.”

Inside, Amrit also carves out new territory in the luxury wellness real estate and hospitality space through its technology, programming, and design.

“Amrit is pioneering a new kind of wellness lifestyle that’s like nothing else in the world right now,” says Shama, with an obvious smile and beam of pride that I can sense through her mask. “We set out to transform personalized wellness living by offering a customized approach to a better life as well as the personalized luxury experience that discerning buyers and travelers expect.”

This is anchored, Shama explains, by Amrit’s patent-pending Personal Wellness Support System™ (PWSS) which helps residents and guests achieve and maintain a healthier, happier, longer life through one-on-one support, training, and counseling, along with a unique combination of holistic wellness experiences designed to enrich the body, mind and soul.

“Having a holistic view of wellness,” says Dilip, “is critical as it considers all parts of our life: our physical body, our mental health and cognition, our emotional wellbeing, and spiritual being. We can never be truly well until we treat all of these with equal importance.”

At the center of that philosophy architecturally is Amrit’s 4-story, 100,000 SF wellness spa, which includes Aayush hydrotherapy treatments, replenishing pools, sauna and steam rooms, meditation studios, relaxation lounges, inhalation chambers, and massage treatments pioneered with famed-ESPA founder, Susan Harmsworth, that are specifically designed to enhance circulation, detoxification, sensory stimulation, breathing, and stress release.

Amrit’s residences and resort rooms also incorporate subtler brushstrokes designed to elevate both mind and body, such as built-in aromatherapy diffusers for mood enhancement, circadian lighting for improved sleep cycles, and private yoga terraces to make physical and mental wellness more practical and accessible no matter how many excuses one chooses to conjure up (i.e., I don’t like to stretch in public or the gym is too far away right now so I should just answer emails).

“Amrit’s focus on health and wellness is more than just another ‘amenity’,” Dilip says. “It’s taking care of oneself that is the ultimate luxury. And COVID has made people realize that it’s also a necessity. People are realizing that if there is no health, there is no wealth, and that wellness and luxury aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, in many ways they’re now inseparable. Our goal always was to create a space where people can feel pampered while also feeling inspired and encouraged to take wellness, how they feel, and realizing their potential for mindfulness to the next level. At Amrit, we’ve put that all in one place.”

While Dilip and Shama’s timing for Amrit might seem fortuitous given the arc of the pandemic and where real estate and travel fashions are trending currently, they are both quick to note it come about didn’t come without a high degree of risk and commitment.

Real estate at the scale where Dilip and Shama play is an uncertain future bet no matter how reliable the underpinning philosophy and amenities are. Massive luxury developments like Amrit, not including land acquisition, permitting, design, and politicking, take years to conceive and deliver. Hundreds of millions of dollars of (often) other people’s money are at stake. Competition is fierce for a limited pool of buyers, particularly in south Florida. And in the intervening years, tastes change. The covetousness of place shifts. Technologies and amenities tire and fall out of favor. Pandemics happen (does anyone really need an indoor cigar lounge any longer?).

But Dilip and Shama’s intentions for Amrit and the impact it could have on people’s lives were always far more expansive than just steel, glass, and yoga.   

Doing good is more inspirational to us than making money,” says Dilip. “Shama and I wanted to manifest a vision and project that would help others, while bringing economies of scale and efficiency to wellness real estate, wellness hospitality, and the lifestyle amenities we pioneer. I feel that God has given me a good life and the ability to imagine a better future. In creating Amrit, I can reciprocate my human duty to give back and share. That was always the main purpose for us: to do good and do well at the same time.”

So far it seems like the Barots placed the right bet.

Not far down the coast, roughly sixty miles south of Amrit down I-95, right in the middle of downtown Miami and the second largest master planned community in the U.S. called Miami Worldcenter, veteran developer Dan Kodsi, founder and CEO of Royal Palm Companies, is manifesting his own re-defining vision of health and wellness real estate called Legacy Hotel & Residences—and like Dilip and Shama reaping the benefits of an unexpectedly well-timed gamble which he began envisioning years ago.

The 50-story project, which starts coming out of the ground this spring, is one of downtown Miami’s most anticipated new developments and has as its central mission the goal of being a model for how luxury hotels and high-rise residences can be designed to stay open, safe, and fully operational during future health pandemics.

At Legacy’s core is a first-of-its-kind, scientifically-based, medically-anchored, $60M wellness center called the Center for Health + Performance (CH+P). Backed by some of the most advanced medical and wellness technologies ever incorporated into a residential building or hotel and conceived in partnership with healthcare expert Stephen Watson, Legacy’s 100,000 square foot CH+P will provide hotel guests, members, and owners with an integrative, holistic medical center, along with everything that comes with it – teams of physicians and practitioners, an onsite lab, pharmacy, full-diagnostic center and rooms outfitted with medical gas and ventilator capabilities, which will allow the hotel to remain operational during future pandemics, and ultimately serve as a refuge for travelers and owners as well as a resource for the Miami community.

“This type of hotel model couldn’t be arriving at a more important time,” says Kodsi. “Legacy will be a place where, during the best of times, our travelers, residents and members will be able to experience a true luxury lifestyle hotel in the heart of downtown Miami with the perks of being attached to a state-of-the-art preventative medical and wellness center where doctors know you and where you’ll have access to some of the most advanced health and wellness services available. During the worst of times, Legacy will be one of the cleanest, safest buildings you can shelter in during a future pandemic—with access to healthcare professionals, surgery capabilities, around the clock health monitoring, contactless food delivery services, and more.”

From the beginning, bringing Legacy and the CH+P to life for Kodsi and his team of world-class architects, engineers, and designers was always an opportunity to look into the future. In the wake of COVID-19, however, that future looks a lot more like the present.

“The Center for Health + Performance is an entirely new type of environment that combines world-class hospitality design, cutting-edge technology and innovative health and wellness offerings,” says Noah Waxman, Founder and Head of Strategy at Cactus, Kodsi’s NYC-based technology partner. “It is truly a glimpse into the future. The Center’s personalized experiences are designed to empower guests by tracking and analyzing a wide variety of their health data in real-time for the ultimate in health and well-being.”

Legacy’s essential architecture will also incorporate medical-grade air purification and filtration systems, anti-microbial and chemically resistant surfaces and materials, voice-activated elevators, touchless room key access, robot-controlled UV sterilization cleaning and sanitation procedures in high traffic areas, and apps to stay in touch with 24/7 medical staff, nurses, and nutritionists. There will also be dedicated diagnostic testing, surgery, and outpatient recovery suites on site, backed by in-house MRI, CT, mammography, X-ray, and ultrasound capabilities. In cases where quarantining is required, Legacy also will be designed with built-in, airtight isolation partitions and enclosures.

“One of the many impacts of COVID-19 will be a more informed and hyper-cautious traveler that will be looking for hotels and vacation homes that prioritize their health and safety without sacrificing that luxury lifestyle experience they are accustomed to,” says Watson. “Legacy is catering to that new wave of consumers who will be increasingly invested in their health and wellness when making any future travel or real estate decisions.”

So far it looks like Kodsi has made the right bet as well. Legacy’s residential units, including their innovative MicroLuxe residences, are pre-selling faster now than ever.

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