5-star hotel planned for Palmetto Bluff

dburley@islandpacket.comDecember 23, 2013 

The real estate investment firm that owns The Inn at Palmetto Bluff gave itself an early Christmas gift Monday, announcing expansion plans that include the construction of a 150-room, five-star hotel at the Bluffton resort.

Charlotte-based Crescent Communities also intends to build a spa and fitness center, and add more dining and special-event space as part of an expansion expected to cost more than $100 million, according to a news release.

The firm also announced Montage Hotels & Resorts, a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based hotel management company, will be the inn's new operator starting in February. The inn will now officially be titled The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage resort, the release said.

Montage operates several high-end resorts around the country, including two vacation spots in California, one in Park City, Utah, and an oceanfront resort in Kapalua Bay in Maui, Hawaii, that is set to open next year.

"This expansion, along with Montage's strong record of delivering extraordinary guest service, will enable Palmetto Bluff to continue providing award-winning hospitality while maintaining the original vision of this special place," Crescent CEO Todd Mansfield said in the release.

With Montage's arrival, the inn will end its relationship with current management company Auberge Resorts, which also operates properties in California, Oregon, Colorado and the British West Indies.

Auberge officials would not be interviewed, but managing partner Mark Harmon sent this statement: "We are proud that, under our leadership, The Inn at Palmetto Bluff has one become of the most highly regarded hotels in the world. The Inn has garnered virtually every prestigious award possible, thanks to the dedication and passion of our outstanding team. We wish the new management group the very best as they embark on the expansion of the hotel and take the Inn in a new direction."

Attempts Monday to reach Mansfield and Montage CEO Alan Fuerstman for comment were unsuccessful.

The investment announcement comes two months after the inn shared honors for the best hotel and resort in the U.S. in the 2013 Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards.

The inn, which currently has 50 rental cottages, sits on the 20,000-acre Palmetto Bluff residential community and conservation preserve.

Crescent first began developing the community in the early 2000s and has touted its environmental conscience when building near the river. Bordered by the dazzling but environmentally threatened May River, about a third of the property is protected by restrictions, including a 6,500-acre forest and 734 acres of conservation easements.

When the state Department of Health and Environmental Control decided to reopen a half-mile section of the river last year, Crescent agreed to build homes in a less sensitive area farther from the banks.

The developer also donated six acres for a stormwater retention pond that the town of Bluffton built using a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and town funds. The pond treats stormwater from 300 surrounding acres, removing 80 percent of harmful bacteria before it reaches the river, according to Ron Bullman, director of the town's Division of Stormwater Management, when the agreement was reached.

Emailed questions concerning the new expansion's impact on the environment when construction begins next year were not returned Monday by Crescent and Palmetto Bluff vice president Jay Page.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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