- May 4, 2016
During a Longboat Key Town Commission meeting last year, developer Chuck Whittall said he has spent $27 million in planning the redevelopment of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. In December, his company continued investment in the property with the purchase of six units for a combined $628,000.
Despite uncertainty about a March 14 referendum that would allow Unicorp National Developments to seek more density in its vision for the Colony, the company in December bought two units for $165,000 each, two units for $84,000 each and another two for $65,000 each, according to documents filed with the Sarasota Clerk of the Court. Since 2014, Unicorp has purchased 14 units for a combined $808,000.
“We’re not really interested in waiting any longer for the redevelopment.” — Sissie Lipton, sold her unit to developer Chuck Whittall for $84,000
The more units Unicorp owns, the more clout the company has in negotiations over a development agreement between Unicorp and Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association, which requires 91% of unit owners to approve a deal that offers an average buyout of $186,000. While the latest round of unit sales don’t match that offer, they’re significantly higher than the $20,000 and $40,000 deals Unicorp cut with 13 owners in 2014.
“We’re under contract with another four or five right now,” said Whittall. “We’re going to continue acquiring property out there.”
Still, Tennessee investor Andy Adams, who remains in control of a 29% share of votes, has not yet officially announced support for the agreement.
“I think Andy is sitting back and seeing what happens with the referendum,” Whittall said. “We continue to have great conversations and eventually, we’ll come to an agreement.”
Under the contract, owners would receive between $167,000 and $368,000 at closing, and Unicorp would move forward with $1 billion plans for 237 tourism units and 180 condominium units, plus amenities including a lazy river, saltwater swimming lagoons and beach-view dining, as was the former Monkey Room.
“I will never sell the property. The property will not leave my hands.” — Unicorp President Chuck Whittall
Sissie Lipton, who had owned a unit at the Colony for more than 20 years, originally came to the island about 35 years ago. She sold her unit to Whittall for $84,000.
“We had the best years there,” Lipton said. “Our children grew up at the Colony.”
But, since the Colony closed, she has been vacationing in Nice, France, and in the Tampa Bay area.
“We’re not really interested in waiting any longer for the redevelopment,” Lipton said.
Last July, Unicorp spent $22 illion to acquire the 2.3-acre recreational piece of the property at the center of the former resort, which allowed the firm to begin demolition. And in the same month, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort Association chose the Orlando-based developer, which built the Orlando Eye, as its representative to the town.
Association President Jay Yablon did not respond to multiple calls for comment.
Whittall held his first voluntary neighborhood workshop to unveil his vision for the property at the Lazy Lobster in December, with plans for more than 80 workshops in total. He has mailed out postcards urging a “yes” vote on the coming referendum. The website touting the project has received more than 100,000 unique visitors since it launched in December, he said.
Further adding to the uncertainty about the project are the proposed planned-unit development regulations, which the Planning and Zoning Board — and then the Town Commission — will consider. Those guidelines would limit building height to eight stories, which falls short of the 10+ stories Unicorp includes in its Colony plans.
Although she doesn’t have a stake in the 17-acre Longboat property, Lipton wants to see redevelopment occur nonetheless.
“I think the owners, if they don’t accept the deal, are being very foolish,” she said. “It’s been 10 years, and it’s time to develop this wonderful waterfront site.”
Although he has no legal standing or ownership interest in the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, Longboat Key-based developer Manfred Welfonder has released renderings depicting his vision for the property.
“It has that tropical theme and the identity of the west coast of Florida,” said architect Bob Koch, founder of Winter Park-based Fugleberg Koch. “It’s a very lush and tropical thing, not an urban kind of a thing.”
Despite Welfonder’s push to reimagine the Colony, Unicorp National Developments remains the only contender with an agreement waiting to be approved between unit owners and ownership of more than a dozen units and the 2.3-acre recreation piece of the property.
“I will never sell the property,” said Unicorp President Chuck Whittall. “The property will not leave my hands.”