SINGAPORE - The Genting Group came to Miami and shocked just about everyone.
In a short time, it plunked down almost half a billion dollars on property along Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.
Within hours of securing both the Miami Herald building and nearby Omni, it held a news conference showcasing elaborate plans for a destination casino resort.
Its presentation awed some and frightened others. But no matter where one stood, there was one question on the minds of many in South Florida: Who are these guys?
The company is based in Malaysia, but its property just across the Strait of Johor is what the company refers to as a model of what it wants to bring to Miami.
To learn more about the company Local 10 thought it was best to take viewers there. Local 10's Christina Vazquez flew nearly 11,000 miles over two days and several times zones to bring you to Singapore.
Genting Group's destination casino resort sits on Sentosa Island, an area known for its lush vegetation and sandy beaches. The island was already a tourist draw for families with kid-friendly activities.
Singapore's government decided to issue a gaming license for that location under the condition that the winning bidder would have to provide a theme park and family-friendly resort.
Genting won the bid, in part, by partnering with Universal Studios. The theme park included attractions that can't be found anywhere else in the world, including a replica of Shrek's Far Far Away Castle and a ride based on the animated film "Madagascar."
The plot of land is about 125 acres, and it is connected to the mainland by a bridge and a monorail.
Singapore's government mandated that the casino only represent 5 percent of the resort.
In a bill soon to be decided in Florida, that percentage would be up to 10 percent, and Genting is looking to develop a site that is about 35 acres along Biscayne Bay.
At Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, Genting tucked its casino away in the basement and added large screens at public entrances to block all views. That means people walking by can't spot a single slot machine or table game.
Genting's casino targets what the industry calls "whales," high-rollers able to drop $500 to $500,000 on a single hand.
Sure, it has slots and some table games at $20 a hand, but that market is not the casino's target audience.
On a tour, Genting officials told Local 10 just 15 percent of the total revenue at the casinos comes from slots.
The casino have more than 30 private luxury gaming suites. Each has several table games and features plush seating arrangements, high-end electronics and stylish décor.
To have access to one of these rooms, the visitor must "check in" $2 million at the door. They don't have to bet that much, just show they have it. The whopping figure gives one a sense of the kind of clients Genting is working to nurture.
Genting's Singapore property also includes an impressive and interactive Maritime Museum, which documents the area's silk route. According to its website, it is the "first and only museum to showcase Asian maritime history."
There is a brilliantly decorated row of bazaars highlighting the different cultures along the silk route, a 360-degree multimedia theater allowing visitors to experience being caught in a Typhoon, hundreds of artifacts from a shipwreck and a life-size replica of an Arab dhow ship. The Jewel of Muscat was built using ancient construction techniques. Not a single nail was used; instead, it was sewn together and is ocean worthy.
The museum is encased in an iconic red building shaped like the hull of a boat and dotted with glass.
Genting officials said one thing they like to do when they get to a new location is "complement" existing businesses.
Across the South China Sea from their location is the city-state's largest mall. The mall and Sentosa Island are connected by a monorail.
Genting said when it designed its luxury retail space, it made sure to pick brands and stores that didn't already exist at the mall in order not to compete.
Looking around, one will notice that every piece of fabric, every sculpture, every hotel room reflects a level of elegance and sophistication Genting believes its clients demand.
Even the public restrooms are pretty, adorned with nature motifs and upscale light fixtures.
There's not a hotel room cheaper than $400 on the property.
Each hotel at the property is unique, each designed by famed American architect Michael Graves.
One of the hotels is named after him, a tribute to his work and aesthetic. Rates at Hotel Michael start at $500 for a deluxe room and go up to $1,000 for a deluxe suite.
At Hotel Michael, the bathroom is awash in marble and includes a half-circle shower that is said to be a replica of the shower Graves designed for his own home.
The wall along the bathtub has retractable doors that open into the living room.
The rooms also feature space-saving furniture pieces, including a vanity table that folds away when not in use and extra desk space with just the pull of a handle.
A burst of color from Miami's pop artist Romero Britto greets visitors at the lobby of the Festive Hotel. This one is geared specifically for families.
Large orchid paintings adorn the ceiling of brightly colored rooms. There is also a loft area for kids, who also get their own welcome packet and kid-sized spa robe and slippers.
The suites include an adjoining room with two twin beds, which could be used by the family's traveling caregiver. Rates start at $400 for a deluxe room and go up to $800 for a deluxe suite.
The Hard Rock Hotel is everything one would think it would be, fun and edgy. A mix of darker colors, such as black and plum, is met with bursts of silver. The rooms have flare; the elevator is adorned with hanging crystals, and each floor showcases memorabilia from a famous artist.
Rates at the Hard Rock start from $450 for a deluxe room and go up to $5,000 for a Rock Star Suite.
The rooms at Crockford's Tower are invitation only. Some guests get their very own butler to help fulfill any need, even draw visitors a bath.
The bathroom's rainfall shower morphs into a steam room with just a touch of a button, and the mirror can double as a television, which is built in. The television only activates when turned on.
The mansion suite at Crockford's includes about 2,000 square feet of living space.
High-rollers traveling with a family might opt to stay at one of the villas. They run up to $12,000 a night but include just about every luxury amenity imaginable, including a private message room and a private courtyard with a pool.
There is also a separate living area for a nanny. That room comes with a twin bed, its own marble bathroom, a small courtyard and direct access to the villa's kitchen.
There is also a convention center on the property. The crown jewel is the 65,000-square-foot column-less ballroom, which can fit more than 6,500 people in what the resort describes as "theater-style seating."
The convention center also has built-in retractable walls, which quietly glide down to divide the space into three separate ballrooms.
There are several pools on the property; one is expansive and includes sandy beaches and boardwalks. It is this feature and the column-less style ballroom that Genting believes it may bring to Miami.
Genting told Local 10 it partnered with local vendors. One row of its so-called Festive Walk features Singaporean restaurants and bakeries.
The plans for Miami don't involve a theme park or attraction at quite the scale of what exists in Singapore. But Genting officials said it is their template in that the focus and feel is "family-friendly," it's upscale, they found ways to compliment not compete with nearby businesses and the casino is out of sight, out of mind.
That was a point articulated by the Smith family from England. They have visited Sentosa Island before and had returned to take advantage of Universal Studios.
Local 10 asked them if having a casino on the property worried them, to which the father answered, "No, it's separate. If you want to go to the casino, you go to the casino. If you want to go to Universal Studios, you go to Universal Studios. I can see there's a sign in the distance there saying 'casino,' pointing that way, and that's all we've seen of it. We are not interested in it, so it hasn't affected us at all."
"It's a family approach, where the family can feel comfortable, and it's the same sort of model we brought to Norwegian Cruise Line," said Genting chairman K.T. Lim. "The family can stay a couple of days and really enjoy themselves, and hopefully that is what will bring them back to Singapore to enjoy the rest of Singapore, and I don't see anything different here in Miami."
Genting owns half of Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Lines. It was Lim who developed the idea of "freestyle cruising."
"I'm really not that new to Florida. Ten years ago, I was the one who was responsible to buy Norwegian Cruise Line," Lim said. "We turned Norwegian Cruise Line upside-down. We ordered new ships to be designed like a land resort, and I think that has worked. I would like to think that is through a better understanding of what the market needs and not just copying or doing the same thing as other players are doing in the industry. In one way, it's like we went full circle. We brought what we had been doing on land to the ships where you can dine wherever you want, at whatever time you want, eat whatever you want and do whatever you want. One of the tag lines was you could also do nothing. That's how I see the vacation experience should be, not so regimented. But of course there are people who would like that. Then let other players in the business take care of that. We need to grow the pie, right. That's the philosophy of the Genting Group."
The final phase of construction at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore will include two more hotels, a spa, villas, a lazy river and the largest aquarium in the world.
Singapore's weather is much like Miami's; it is hot, humid and rains often. That's why all the open walkways are topped with a uniquely designed canopy. How it keeps visitors protected from rain is obvious; what one can't see is the science inside the fabric.
Made from a material first invented as insulation for the aeronautics industry, the polymer reduces solar gain.
Genting officials said they are also committed to being "green." They use solar energy, water basins to catch rain runoff for irrigation and preserved hundreds of trees and relocated corals, which were dug up during construction.
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