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Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010 7 years ago

Colony leaders reminisce

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The beige walls are barely visible behind frames of varying size, newspaper clippings and pictures that are stuck to the plaster with nails and an assortment of colorful thumbtacks.

On one wall, next to pictures of friends and family, is a framed Wall Street Journal article touting the success of Longboat Key’s only resort father-daughter team.

The day before The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort officially closed its doors Sunday, Aug. 15, 41-year Colony owner Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber sat in his office, cluttered with papers and memorabilia, and sorted through documents and old memories.

While talking about his Colony memories of the last four decades, Klauber, wearing khaki shorts and a bright yellow Colony shirt, appears relaxed while reclining in an office chair, with his back to a sweeping view of the Gulf of Mexico.

It may have been packing day at the Colony on Saturday, but Klauber wasn’t sorting through things in order to move — he will continue to live at his penthouse residence on the property.

“I can’t leave a place where half of the people who live on this island now decided to stay after seeing the simple elegance that is this property,” Klauber says.

As Klauber eases back into his chair, he prefers to talk about the good memories he’s had over the years. In between thoughts, Klauber scans documents and constantly raises and lowers his eyeglasses, which hang around his neck via a multi-colored, beaded eyeglass holder.

“I have been down here 42 years and I have never had a bad day or a bad night,” Klauber says.

But the memories of current events, including a judge’s decision that the Colony’s bankruptcy case be converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation, quickly move into the foreground of Klauber’s thoughts.

Klauber says he especially takes issue with two words in the Colony Association’s bankruptcy documents that have appeared in case documents for the last two years — “gross mismanagement.”

“From 1973 to 2009, the most a unit owner has invested in the partnership (which operated the hotel) is $29,000, on top of their 30 days of free use a year,” Klauber says. “We distributed to them $35 million during that same time. If that’s mismanagement, I am guilty.”

Klauber says he doesn’t regret filing the April 2007 lawsuit in Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court, which was filed with the intent of forcing the association to pay approximately $12 million in repairs and renovations Klauber says the association was obligated to make.

“In 2005, the outgoing board made the suggestion a major overhaul be performed and they hired an engineer for potential renovations,” Klauber says. “That vote was six or seven votes short of getting renovations done.”

The vote was never that close again.

“In 2006, the present board started its crusade against me,” Klauber says.

The board, for years, also voted never to assess unit owners for any emergency situation, Klauber says.
“And in 2007, when the partnership said it was mandatory to make repairs to keep the hotel’s reputation intact, they told everyone they didn’t have to do it and filed for bankruptcy,” Klauber says. “That’s when the fun started.”

Klauber’s daughter, Katie Klauber Moulton, interrupts Klauber’s recollection by entering the room. Moulton was working Saturday to preserve every document on site, going back to the early 1990s. All of the paperwork is now in the possession of U.S. bankruptcy trustee William Maloney, who was appointed Aug. 13 to be the Chapter 7 trustee.

Moulton presents her father with pictures of President George W. Bush’s visit to the resort in 2001 and an invitation she found for Klauber’s 80th birthday bash at the Colony.

Klauber takes the invitation, which is adorned with pictures of himself from birth to age 80 and contains a menu ripe with his favorite foods, and places it on a stack of papers in front of his desk. The menu — to be sure — will be filed away with many other memories and will eventually be thumbtacked to the wall among the other pieces of memorabilia.

Moulton’s assessment
Klauber catches his daughter up to speed on the discussion, and Moulton confirms her father’s statistics.

“We have given them $35 million in profits from 1987 to 2009 that went toward paying their assessments, maintenance fees, property taxes and insurance,” Moulton says. “That’s $35 million they never had to pay as condo owners to pay for repairs and maintenance.”

Moulton says it worried her over the years that the boards would consistently vote not to assess themselves.

“If they had paid some assessment all along, it wouldn’t have come as a shock to them to assess repairs for the buildings,” Mouton says.

The pictures taken of Bush at the resort on Sept. 10, 2001, which were looked upon fondly only moments earlier, also bring back memories of a date in history that forever changed the landscape of the country and the historic resort.

“We had just recovered from Sept. 11,” Moulton says. “Then the market started slipping, and then we get blamed for not taking money aside from the profits to make renovations. But we gave them $35 million.”

But, without question, Moulton and Klauber believe they are partly to blame for what happened.

“We spoiled the unit owners,” Klauber says. “Without a doubt.”

Klauber says his April 2007 lawsuit that led to the freefall of lawsuits and countersuits had to be filed.

“We had no other choice,” Klauber says.

Moulton agrees.

“We attempted in every possible way to use all the methods available to us,” Moulton says. “We had run out of options. “

What’s next?
The Colony resort that Klauber and Moulton spent countless hours working to create is gone.

But Klauber still owns a valuable piece of property — three acres in total — that will likely come into play should the Colony undergo a renovation.

“We consider a maintenance parcel to the southeast of the property and the parcel just north of the entrance where there are six tennis courts to be the most probable future development parcels,” Moulton says. “Those two parcels my father owns are the most ripe for development when you look at adding additional tourism units.”

Although both Moulton and Klauber say they need to take time to relax now that the Colony is closed, they are not abandoning it altogether.

Moulton will continue to work to close down her father’s restaurant and businesses.

And they both will monitor closely the Colony’s future.

“Our plans are to continue to find a resolution between the owners and our interests,” Moulton says. “Certainly they would like a complete property to be rejuvenated as a luxury resort. We are eager to continue a dialogue.”

Moulton also hopes the board will consider Colony Lender LLC’s (the owner of Klauber’s $10 million bank loans) plans to renovate the resort.

“We are very comfortable with the plan they (Colony Lender) put forward and think owners should consider it,” Moulton says.

And if unit owners decide not to choose a Colony Lender plan?

“Maybe another investor can pay off Colony Lender’s loans or include them in a renovation plan,” says Moulton, who says her father would most likely not attempt to buy back the defaulted loans.

Moulton and Klauber both say they will continue to hold meetings with interested parties who would like to see the resort renovated.

And unit owners who supported Klauber and Moulton but chose not to speak out during the lawsuits won’t sit on the sidelines any longer, according to Moulton.

“Unit owners are hungry for information and are hungry for full transparency,” Moulton says. “Now that the board has accomplished what it set out to do, they want to see action.”

Future vision
Despite all that has happened, Klauber and Moulton say they have no regrets.

Moulton says her 22 years spent as general manager at the Colony were special.

“Creating special moments for guests made this job worthwhile for me,” Moulton says.

Moulton remembers making sure macaroon cookies were available for one return guest who was shocked that the general manager had remembered her favorite cookie a year later.

And she laughs as she recalls shortchanging the sheets for some of her honeymooners.

While flipping through photo albums, Klauber and Moulton see a bustling resort — with 320 employees at its peak — depicted in the snapshots. The photos capture the spirit of the resort’s many legendary parties.

“We had great Christmas parties and fun beach parties with employees,” Moulton says.

The reminiscing causes Moulton to remember she has a street sign waiting to be given to one of her employees, who just hit her 30-year mark as a Colony employee. Moulton and Klauber have given out six street signs over the years. Normally, the street signs are displayed on Colony property — as prominent pieces of Colony history. But this latest tribute will have to be displayed elsewhere.

“They all get a sign somewhere on the property,” Moulton says. “But I will give this one for her to take home.”

Despite the uncertain future for the resort, Moulton and Klauber are hopeful that, one day, a renovated resort will contain a historical room that features some of the memorabilia and memories that the father/daughter team will always cherish.

“For a daughter to have this experience with her father is quite amazing,” Moulton says. “I’m proud of it and am happy for all the memories we have and the ones we were able to create.”

But, instead of looking back on the past, Klauber says he will continue to look forward.

“I know it’s going to turn out positive and correct in the end,” Klauber says.

As the conversation winds down, the focus once again shifts to the many stacks of papers and memorabilia in the office.

However, there is one last thing the father/daughter pair decides to do.

Klauber hops on a blue bicycle cruiser that’s just beginning to rust and pedals to the front of the property.

Together, he and Moulton lower to half staff the American flag that flies on the flagpole next to the entrance sign to the Colony

As he sets off to return to his office, Klauber says he believes the resort he spent more than 40 years creating will rebound — with or without the Colony vision in his mind.

“This is not the end,” Klauber says. “This is just the beginning.”









Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].

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