OCEAN CITY -- T-shirts and swimsuits on the beach and in the hotel room have given Ocean City a reputation as a super-casual resort. Now the new place in town is introducing a classy upscale look -- along with a new concept in marketing oceanfront real estate that has buyers lining up to put down deposits.
With mirrored ceilings in the lobby, marble on the floors, chandeliers in every hall and a view of the ocean from all but a handful of its 340 rooms, the block-long Princess Royale appears to be every bit the high-class facility that rumors around town had said it would be.
"It's like being uptown down the ocean," said Robert L. Mead of SmithMead & Goldberg, which handles the public relations for the condominium/hotel described as Ocean City's largest hotel and only all-suite, full-service facility.
Princess Royale, which opened in February, is one of a few facilities "built like a full-service hotel, but sold like a condominium," said Mark C. Fritschie of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, which is selling the units.
The developer, 91st Street Joint Venture, is selling all 30 of the two- and three-bedroom units and 148 of the one-bedroom units -- a move designed to offset the construction debt on the building. The remaining 162 one-bedroom units will be rented as hotel rooms.
The condominium units sell for between $138,000 for a one-bedroom, two-room suite to $385,000 for a three-bedroom, oceanfront unit. Buyers must put down 10 percent of the sale price, Mr. Fritschie said. The one-bedroom units are fully furnished, including silverware and kitchen utensils.
All 30 of the two- and three-bedroom units can be lived in year-round, but the one-bedroom suites, which are 532 square feet, are too small and bylaws forbid year-round occupancy.
The facility, which also is being marketed to potential hotel clients as a resort/conference center, has room to accommodate two large conferences at one time and 600 overnight guests. Its 5,400-square-foot ballroom will seat 430, while a 7,700-square-foot convention room downstairs can be used for displays or will seat up to 600. Both rooms can be broken down into five smaller conference rooms.
A four-story atrium, surrounding the Olympic-sized pool at the center of the facility, is also being booked for parties.
Two months after opening, the Princess Royale had already booked 65 groups for conferences or parties through the 1993 season.
Enclosed under one roof is a convenience store, whirlpool, saunas, health club and tennis courts -- located atop one of its two towers -- as well as a restaurant, Schooners, which features live music nightly.
The developers sought to create a facility with enough conference space that it would book well, not only in season but during the rest of the year.
Not surprisingly, many of the condominium buyers view their units as good investments because of their potential to generate income from conferences booked during Ocean City's off-season.
Other condominium buyers like the idea of being pampered with room service. For $18.50, a maid will clean up after them and provide clean linens.
The suite setup is also a popular trend.
Business people like the two-room suite because they can entertain clients in a lounge-like setting without leaving their room.
And the hotel's management expects the suite to be attractive to vacationers who want their children nearby, but like to be able to close the door for peace and quiet once in a while.
The condo/hotel rooms have all the latest electronic gadgetry, including an electronic safe, and a television that converts to a computer screen so clients can review their bill before checking out or can update themselves on the latest changes in their conference schedule.
Two telephones, two televisions, a microwave oven and kitchen are standard. Eight of the executive suites on the upper floors are also equipped with Jacuzzis.
The condo/hotel marketing scheme appears to be working. Even before completing legal documents to begin selling units last month, Mr. Fritschie had 70 letters of intent from potential buyers.
"The response the building is getting is incredible," Mr. Fritschie said.
When completed by Memorial Day, the Princess Royale, which covers a 4.5-acre oceanfront block at 91st Street and Coastal Highway, will be worth $52 million, making it Ocean City's largest single real estate tax source, with more hotel rooms than any other facility in town, said Mr. Mead.
Eight years ago, the joint venture began buying up land at 91st Street to build this facility on the last empty parcel of oceanfront in Ocean City. Construction began two years ago, but its name wasn't etched in concrete until a month before its February opening.
Financiers of the two-tower building had intended to call it the Royal Princess, but the Princess Hotel chain took exception and sued.
A judge finally ruled that 91st Street Joint Venture "could use princess as an adjective, but not as a noun," said Mr. Mead. Consequently, after months of uncertainty, the building was given a new name this past winter, just in time to open its doors.
Pat Emory is a free-lance writer who often covers real estate issues for The Sun.