The Real Deal New York

Blesso’s new hotel opens, lures Panama prez

By Adam Fusfeld | May 01, 2012 07:00AM

Tantalo hotel exterior
Manhattan-based developer Blesso Properties recently opened its first project outside the New York area: a 13-room boutique hotel in Panama City. The hotel, called Tantalo, is located in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, according to company founder Matt Blesso. The hotel is currently at 60 percent capacity, he said, with rooms renting for $180 to $325 per night.

The hotel has a restaurant and the Encima roof bar, where Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli was spotted having drinks last month. Blesso said the space is the first and only rooftop bar in Casco Viejo, and is already the most profitable aspect of the project.

The Panama hotel was a drastic change of pace for the company, Blesso said, but it made sense at a time when there were few deals to be had in New York City. (A year after acquiring the Panama City hotel site, Blesso also took a 50 percent stake in Fire Island’s Pines commercial district.)

Blesso said he saw potential for a hotel in the rapidly gentrifying Casco Viejo, where demand from tourists had been pushing up room rates.

It cost Blesso about $100 per square foot to rehabilitate the existing property, which was a dilapidated apartment building when he acquired it for $800,000.

“You would think, as foreigners, we’d be disadvantaged,” Blesso said. “But we were actually at an advantage because in Panama … no one else is doing what is standard [for developers] in New York.”

That said, Blesso said he is anxious to return to his old stomping grounds, and is currently bidding on several projects in Brooklyn. “I’m kind of tired of learning new things,” he said.