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The Fontainebleau was gutted to the studs, its 22-acre grounds completely redrawn. Developers added three upscale signature chefs' restaurants and an enormous new beachfront spa to accommodate 1,504 guest rooms -- just under half of them suites in two new towers. Each features granite counters, walk-in showers and separate jetted tubs, flat-screen TVs and even a new Apple computer. That last part is the centerpiece of the "paperless" hotel -- meaning all guest correspondence will be electronic.

New owner Jeffrey Soffer's team, which bought the property for $500 million and shelled out another $500 million in upgrades, is also opening Fontainebleaus in Las Vegas (fall 2009), Dubai and a fourth, to-be-named location.

Though they wanted a new identity, designers strove to retain architect Morris Lapidus' original vision. For example, Lapidus' affinity for circles is clear throughout the hotel's spacious hallways, where elaborate chandeliers by Ai WeiWei, a consultant for the Beijing Olympics' Bird's Nest main stadium, hang from high-ceiling insets.

The grand lobby's original white-and-black bow-tie floor pattern was recreated out of new materials, and its furrowed columns were preserved and refurbished.

So too was the Fontainebleau's famed "Staircase to Nowhere," which historically led to a small coat room just above the lobby. Belles and beaus would take an elevator up, check their coats and descend the stairs for a grand entrance. The coat check is gone -- not a terribly sensible feature in the tropics, anyway -- but the runway remains.

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