At one time, there were a dozen gay guesthouses along Fort Lauderdale Beach. Over the last five years, gay resorts have taken their toll as new, larger properties spring up right across the street from the ocean. Today, only three gay guesthouses remain open on the beach.
But back in 2000, when Casey Koslowski purchased the guesthouse at 539 N. Birch Road, he had big plans for a grand resort. Those plans became a reality and that Grand Resort became a Fort Lauderdale gay icon.
Next month, the Grand Resort celebrates its 20th anniversary. The celebration is already in the planning stages and Koslowski has many reasons to have a Grand birthday party.
“About a year after finishing college I was recruited by real estate developers to work on the sales teams of their new projects, first in Naples and then on this coast, based on my foreign language and sales skills.”
The commissions Casey earned selling those properties gave him enough capital to buy the Grand. He immediately began remodeling the hotel’s 33 rooms and suites, adding amenities and aggressively promoting the benefits of staying in a luxury resort.
“The resort has changed a lot over the years,” according to Marketing and Operations Manager, Edward Zielke. “We now have 12 different room types, Courtyard guest rooms, pool view guest rooms on the second floor and larger Junior suites on the first floor. They’re more like apartments. You can cook and have guests over.”
One of the resort’s largest—and most successful—innovations is the Grand Resort Day Spa. Unlike other guesthouses or hotels, local residents can have full use of the facilities and even purchase a year-round package of monthly treatments at a discount. “We have a Spa app, so guests can book their own appointments in advance.”
Membership also allows locals to use the pool, WiFi, parking, hot tub, gym and other amenities, same as the other guests have.
According to Casey, “many people love Paula, our manicurist, who’s been with us for 16 years. People from all over book appointments with her. Locals and vacationers, whether they stay there or elsewhere.”
Perhaps another main reason for the Grand’s longevity is Casey’s innovative and far-reaching promotion efforts, the most successful of which has been sponsorship of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The Grand provides a prize package for the winner and a guest: a week’s stay at the Grand Penthouse plus airfare, worth up to $8,000. The resort continues to sponsor the show and will also participate in Drag Con in New York and Los Angeles next year. The Drag Race sponsorship has opened up a younger audience to consider vacationing in Fort Lauderdale in general, and the Grand Resort in particular.
The resort has also been featured in several episodes of a YouTube series called “My Naked Kitchen,” where hot-looking guys cook in their Speedos in one of the Grand’s suites.
One of Casey’s long-term efforts has been his promotion of both the resort and Fort Lauderdale’s Gay Pride events as he travels throughout the U.S.
“We went to Dallas last year and are going to Charlotte in 2019,” according to Edward, who said promoting both the resort and our community helps attract more people to visit. “The property has a legacy of repeat guests. They usually book for next year before checking out.” It’s also a way to cultivate a younger clientele. “Growing up, gay guest houses were mainly looking for camaraderie with other gay men. Now, the younger gay market has begun to know us and stay with us,” according to Casey. The Resort also sponsors local activities such as Island City Stage, Gay Men’s Chorus and gay sports leagues.
The resort is expanding in other ways. “Diversity is important to us,” Edward said. “We want to expand our reach: young, old, people of color, those who are newly out. We want to embrace everyone.”
International visitors are also an important part of the Grand Resort’s long-range plan. According to Casey, many international visitors who stay at the resort wind up buying a nearby condo to live here. And guess who helps them find what they’re looking for? Casey, of course, since he knows the local real estate market so well.
“I do not plan on leaving hospitality nor real estate and am actually looking into other markets where The Grand Resort and Spa could open another location.”
As the Grand Resort turns 20, Casey said Fort Lauderdale feels a little more like South Beach did 20 years ago.
“People with more money are coming here,” he said.
That’s probably a good sign the Grand Resort will have 20 more good years ahead—at least.