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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 8 years ago

Key Club makes its case

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

If the town of Longboat Key rejects the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed $400 million Islandside redevelopment and expansion, the club’s property will deteriorate, property values Key-wide will fall and jobs and businesses will continue to contract.

That was one of the key pitches made Wednesday, Oct. 21, by Longboat Key Club and Resort attorney John Patterson and expert witnesses who spoke on behalf of the club on day one of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board Islandside hearing at Temple Beth Israel.

The club is proposing to construct a new Rees Jones-designed golf course; a new clubhouse; a196-room, five-star hotel with an additional 34 units to be used either for tourism or luxury residences; a new meeting center; two villa townhomes with a total of 10 units; two condominium buildings with 66 units each; a new wellness center with enhanced spa and fitness facilities; and other recreational amenities for club members and guests.

“We are proposing to you a $400 million, world-class redevelopment of Longboat Key,” Patterson said.
Addressing Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson’s presentation, in which she stated earlier in the day that her staff did not recommend the project as presented, Patterson said:
“We are coming to you now to ask for amendments to the club’s gulf-planned development, just like 20 other applicants have done in the past to amend this same development,” Patterson said. “We believe what we are presenting today is well within your power to approve.”

About 350 Longboat Key residents, town officials and business owners filled the temple Wednesday morning for the first of two days of testimony. Many of the people in attendance were either wearing “I Support the Club” buttons or “Say No to Loeb” stickers.

The planning department is charged with making a recommendation about the project to the Town Commission.

Town staff spent all day Tuesday, Oct. 20, turning Temple Beth Israel into a makeshift meeting room to accommodate the crowd interested in the hearing. The meeting will reconvene 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, at the temple, with the Key Club’s representatives, architects and consultants finishing their testimony. They will be followed by representatives of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, who will speak against the project.
Below is a compilation and summary of the witnesses who spoke on behalf of the club Wednesday:

Michael Brody
President and Chief Operating Officer
Loeb Partners Realty
Representing the managing partner of Key Club Associates, the group that owns the club, Brody told the planning and zoning board Key Club Associates has no intention of getting approval for the Islandside project and then selling the resort and leaving town.

“We are not some new company riding into town looking for something without a previous investment to the community,” said Brody.

Brody said Key Club Associates has invested $100 million in the resort since Loeb purchased it in 1990.
“We stick with our investments,” he said.

“We have invested $24 million into assets here in the last six years alone, including the renovation of golf courses and renovation of the fitness and spa centers,” Brody said. “We have done all this at a time when club membership and occupancy rates are declining. We have not milked this asset’s cash flow.”

Brody acknowledged the concerns of the resort’s neighbors over the proposed project’s size and scope.
“Why does it have to be so big? It just doesn’t make sense economically (if it is scaled back),” he said.

“The project was a lot bigger a year ago,” Brody said. “Rather than start off on the wrong foot, we said let’s scale it back. We wanted to be responsive.”

When planning board member George Symanski asked Brody why his project was being offered as an all or nothing proposal, the resort president countered that his company can’t offer a five-star hotel without all of the components proposed.

“The cost of delivering a five-star resort hotel cannot be supportable without the residential portion,” he said.

Michael Welly
General Manager
Longboat Key Club and Resort
Welly focused his brief remarks on the proposed 17,000-square-foot meeting center and concerns about traffic from special events.

He noted the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, which has 18,000 square feet of meeting space, holds only three events a year that have more than 600 guests and one of them hosts 900, which he said would be too large for the Key Club.

Welly said the club has held three events that would qualify as such special events, none of which resulted in traffic problems.

“We always have a plan in place to counteract traffic and congestion concerns for special events,” said Welly. He said valet service, shuttles and town police officers are part of special event management plans.

Dr. Peter Yessawich
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer

“The Longboat Key Club needs to play catch up, and I would submit to you, clearly, this is in the public interest,” Yessawich told the planning and zoning board.

As chairman of the Orlando-based leisure and marketing entertainment firm, Yessawich has been involved in the development and repositioning of some of the most acclaimed resorts in the United States, including
The Breakers in Palm Beach, the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and the Wynn in Las Vegas.

As such, his firm has conducted regular market surveys of consumer trends in the travel-resort field. Changes over the past 10 years have been dramatic, he said.

“The concept of loyalty is increasingly fragile,” Yessawich said of the traditional repeat customers to resorts. In one recent survey, 64% of the respondents — affluent consumers with incomes greater than
$150,000 a year — say they want to go someplace they have never been before on their next vacation.

This means “you have to continually refresh,” he said.

“When you walk around the public access areas (at the Key Club), you can see there is a capital need that is urgently needed,” Yessawich said.

Today’s affluent travelers are also highly discriminating about amenities. In his firm’s survey, 79% of respondents said new and different restaurants are very desirable, and twice as many consumers now say that spas are more important than golf and tennis.

“The most important amenity is the quality of the operation,” Yessawich said.

In his comments about the Key Club’s proposed meeting space, Yessawich said the amount of the proposed space “is very appropriate for the Longboat Key Club and Longboat Key. It’s not oversubscribed.
It preserves intimacy, which is what the Key Club is known for.”

“Investing $400 million in a resort property is not chump change by anybody’s measurements,” Yessawich said. “If you don’t approve this project, you will handicap the ability of this asset to perform, which will impact taxes and jobs in your community.”

Rob Hutcheson
Senior Associate
EDSA Landscape Architects

Hutcheson, senior associate with Orlando-based EDSA, presented a series of slides, showing how the proposed expansion would be so heavily landscaped that the look of the new facilities would mask their size.

High among his firm’s goals with the project: “to harmonize everything,” “to enhance the pedestrian guest experience,” “create a memorable experience.”

Hutcheson told planning board members the sites of each of the new buildings would be constructed so they have slight uphill grades, with multiple berms and lush landscaping that would disguise parking areas under the buildings.

“The goal is never to see cars parked on the property from the naked eye,” he said.
Hutcheson noted also that during the construction period, lush landscaping and buffers would be placed along Longboat Club Road so residents and guests would not see the construction sites.

Phil Graham
Graham-Booth Landscape Architecture

The St. Petersburg-based landscape architect addressed the planning board to offer the idea of his firm helping the town of Longboat Key redo the southern entrance to the Key at New Pass Bridge up to the entrance of the Key Club.

Graham showed slides depicting how Gulf of Mexico Drive could be landscaped “to create a major portal and gateway to the Key. Create the opportunity for a big hello,” he said.

Saying he knew the town received a $500,000 federal stimulus grant to improve its entrances and welcome signs, Graham expressed a desire to help the town and the Florida Department of Transportation work on the project. Graham’s firm has had a longtime relationship with FDOT on many of its roadway landscaping projects.

Graham and Patterson called the southern entrance to Longboat Key “unattractive” and “a mess.”

Said Patterson: “It doesn’t make sense for the club to spend $400 million on a project and have the entrance to Longboat Key look the way it does today.”

Asked by planning board member Morton Siegler if Graham was willing to offer his services to the town for free, Key Club attorney Patterson said that’s an option the club might consider.

For more information, visit Thursday for live updates regarding the hearing.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].

For a pictorial look at the Key Club hearing, please click here.

Data: Traffic would be rare. To read this article, please click here.


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