Winfred Van Workum knew minutes into his first hard hat tour of the St. Regis Longboat Key that it would be a special project.
He was all in.
To be a part of a project from the beginning and "really create something very special" is unique for the St. Regis Longboat Key's newly appointed general manager.
But Van Workum is no stranger to managing high-end resorts.
He’s previously been the general manager for the St. Regis Bal Harbour, the St. Regis Washington, D.C., and the Ritz-Carlton, New York.
At the Sept. 18 first public hearing for the new parking plans, Unicorp National Developments, Inc. President Chuck Whittall announced the project had chosen Van Workum as the general manager for the St. Regis Longboat Key.
Now he’s excited to be a part of the St. Regis Longboat Key from the pre-opening stage. Construction is scheduled to wrap up around spring 2024, and Van Workum already has plans in place to get the resort on track to being the luxury destination it’s advertised to become.
“It’s going extremely well,” Van Workum says. “We just have a great construction company, and the developer, Unicorp, is a really experienced and great developer.”
He notes how passionate and involved Whittall is in the project, making sure everything is “top-notch.”
“If you have such a dedicated team from all angles, it just moves forward really quickly,” Van Workum says.
The last couple cities Van Workum dealt with are more populated. He says in a hotel in cities like New York, the market is usually people from California or Florida that come to visit. But in Florida, the market is usually people from the Northeast.
For the St. Regis Longboat Key, Van Workum anticipates a similar market, drawing in a high-end traveler demographic.
“We’re really positioning the hotel as a destination where I think we’re really going to market this to some of the top travel agents in the world,” Van Workum says.
One big difference in this market? Hiring. In markets that have a lot of nearby high-end resorts, like New York City and Miami, it’s easier to find people with experience.
But here, Van Workum says he’s looking to deploy another strategy: hire on attitude, train on experience.
“We’re really looking for people with gracious hospitality and beautiful, warm hospitality and personalities,” Van Workum says. “But we are planning to focus a lot on Forbes’ Five-Star standards.”
The goal? Make the St. Regis Longboat Key the first Forbes Five-Star resort on the Gulf Coast.
This comes with a lot of training, including how to properly open a bottle of wine, ensuring everything is properly cleaned and what Van Workum calls “anticipatory service” — sort of like mind-reading to anticipate the needs of guests.
Butler service will also be a key factor in the exemplary service Van Workum is trying to create.
Right now, Van Workum says the team is recruiting some of the executive roles, like the director of engineering. Hourly positions won’t be hired until about a month out from opening.
Though a lot of marketing will cater to high-end world travelers, Van Workum remains focused on the resort’s connection to Longboat Key.
“I think we also really want to be a big part of the community,” Van Workum says. “One thing that I’ve learned is that the Colony hotel always was a very special spot in the community — a lot of events there, a lot of people would socially meet there. And I think that’s really important for us with this resort.”
He hopes the resort will be a meeting spot, and act as “kind of the living room of Longboat Key.”
Van Workum is excited to show off the unique amenities that the resort will offer, both to resort guests and the Longboat Key community.
This includes a 4-acre saltwater lagoon, complete with tropical fish and stingrays. And two resident Galapagos tortoises, the largest tortoises in the world.
The resort’s spa could be an all-day affair, Van Workum says. A hair salon, nail salon, massages and relaxation areas are just the beginning.
Food and beverages are also key.
A more upscale restaurant will focus on steaks and seafood, whereas a more “approachable” Italian restaurant will be great for families, Van Workum says.
A bar on the second floor is positioned perfectly to watch the sunset. “I think that’s going to be the spot for sunset watching on Longboat Key,” Van Workum says.
The Colony famously had The Monkey Room Bar. The St. Regis will pay homage to this popular community spot, in the way of a tiki bar near the beach.
The team was also inspired by the area’s connection to the Ringling Bros. in creating the resort’s oval-shaped ballroom.
Just talking about the future amenities and specialty cocktails brings a certain light to Van Workum’s eyes. Van Workum’s family worked in hospitality and some owned their own hotels and restaurants.
“I just realized that it’s something I have a true passion for,” Van Workum says. “We’re really providing experiences to our guests, that really satisfies me when I see all these memories that we can create for guests.”
This article originally appeared on sister site YourObserver.com.