Herald Tribune August 06, 2007
Millions spent on Longboat resort

SARASOTA — When Longboat Key Club General Manager Michael Welly addresses the resort’s condo owners at the group’s Aug. 17 annual meeting, he will likely focus on the slew of upgrades that have been made in the recent past.

It is both a good story for him to tell and an easy one for owners to hear.
Within the past four years, the tony 410-acre resort has improved its aging golf courses, bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of links equipment, punched up the 110-seat lobby of its 221-unit condo hotel and replaced worn beach furniture, to the tune of $150,000.
The 25-year-old club has also added a sumptuous spa featuring a dozen treatment rooms, beefed up its fitness center with new machines and weights, and added a dozen employees, including an agronomist and a new golf director.
In all, club owner Loeb Partners Realty, a New York firm that acquired Longboat Key Club for $25 million in 1990, has spent in excess of $10 million to fix, or elevate, amenities.
“To be competitive, you have to be new again,” said Welly, who joined the resort nearly four years ago. When times get tough, as they did after 9/11, there are only two ways to go, he said, “sit back and weather the storm or add on and improve.
“The resort’s unit owners have chipped in as well, investing roughly the same amount to refurbish rooms and completely replace furniture for the first time in more than a dozen years.
Today, the hotel’s rooms sport flat-screen televisions, upscale rattan furniture and inviting dining rooms and kitchens with marble and tile.
Welly may also decide to outline the club’s future at the annual meeting. It, too, is a tale Welly likely relishes sharing with the club’s roughly 2,000 members.
If all its plans come to fruition, the club’s owners could spend another roughly $100 million on upgrades.
Longboat Key Club’s plans include replacing 20 tennis courts and adding a “stadium court” and clubhouse, along with further improvements to its 45 holes of golf.
The Harborside tennis courts and clubhouse will be the next, and most visible, manifestation of the club’s progress.
Breaking ground this fall, the $2.5 million development will add a Sarasota School of Architecture-style clubhouse with dining and a host of other amenities.
Later this year, the club is slated to acquire a 291-slip “dockominium” marina adjacent to its property.
The marina, the largest deep water boat pen on the west coast of Florida, includes 37 wet slips. In time, the club will add a restaurant, rentals and options for hotel guests, Welly said.The marina, which will cost between $8 million and $9 million, is owned by developer Bill Vernon.
The marina may not be the only water-related, big ticket item Loeb Partners funds in the near future.
If an experiment to install special, saltwater-tolerant grass on its links does not succeed, the club will have to get serious about developing desalination plants to supply a big portion of the 1 million gallons of water it uses — daily — to keep its greens (and courses) green.
The reverse osmosis plants, as they are also known, are not cheap. A pair would cost the club roughly $8 million.
But the improvements are critical, Welly said, to keep pace with private clubs like the Ritz-Carlton’s Lido Key beach club.
“We now have someone we have to measure up against, so improvements are important,” Welly said. “It’s something we should be doing anyway, but the Ritz-Carlton brought with it their typical level of quality and a new level of pricing, which has also helped us.
“Longboat Key Club’s experience renovating its condo hotel stands in stark contrast to another upscale — but aging — key resort, the 234-unit Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
Earlier this year, fractious relations between the Klauber family that has long owned the famed tennis resort and unit owners broke down over refurbishments.
A Klauber partnership has sued the club’s owners for $14.1 million to cover repairs and upgrades. In response, an owners’ association has threatened to fire the Klauber’s management firm and hire another company to run the resort.
It is a scenario that nearly sparked a similar fire at the Longboat Key Club. In March 2004, Loeb Partners replaced management after club unit owners, members and guests complained that the resort looked tired and unkempt.
Owners today, however, describe Welly as responsive and proactive.
“Mr. Welly has absolutely made this place sing,” said Robert A. Rosin, president of the club’s condo association.