Phillip Gesue and his partners had to chase out the South Dixie Highway hookers to start in on the renovation of the old Mount Vernon Motor Lodge. The 1940s Bahamas colonial-style building had seen better days; well after the El Cid district it neighbors had gone high-end funky chic in the '90s, the inn's room-by-the-hour clientele remained notably louche. The seedy West Palm landmark's reincarnation as Hotel Biba has been an international effort. Gesue, who has a master's in real estate from Columbia University, jointly developed the property with Nihan Gencer (from Istanbul, by way of the same Ivy League schooling) and H. Wisner Miller (Swedish-American, Swiss raised). The design is by Barbara Hulanicki, whose '60s London fashion label the hotel is named for and whose signature palette of melon, lilac, and celery colors the rooms. The hues would be overwhelming, but the minimalist furnishings, with their simple, organic elements, let them work -- modern, hip, fun. If restless, hotel guests can party in the Biba Bar. Already a local hotspot, it draws "an intelligent crowd," Gesue says. If the party's too much, sit and listen to the fountain in the Japanese garden outside. And though the hotel is upscale, it isn't off-the-charts: No room costs more than $200, and some go for less than $100.

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