Part Of Famed Islamorada Lodge Will Be Converted To Condominiums
By Marilyn Bowden
Cheeca Lodge & Spa, a 27-acre fishing camp in Islamorada whose celebrity guest list includes several US presidents, will be partially converted to condominiums after its sale for $34.5 million.
About half of the resort’s 203 units will be sold as homes by new owners Johnson Resort Properties and The Falor Cos., which bought the landmark property from Olympus Real Estate Partners, said Kevin O’Grady of CB Richard Ellis, who represented the buyers.
He said the hotel has 80% occupancy year-round.
During the past decade, it’s become more common for buyers of high-end resorts to convert some units to condos, said Scott W. Brush of consulting firm Brush & Co. "Hotels are very, very capital-intensive. Banks are not as friendly to hotels as they have been in the past, and people look at it as a way to finance. By selling condos, they can get some money out at the beginning for renovations or to lower the debt."
Mr. Brush said the price range for high-end resorts "has held pretty well through the problems of the past couple of years. They are desirable investments because they don’t get hit so much with the ups and downs of the market."
The new owners plan to sink $12 million into renovations that will give the property "more of a West Indies feel," said Julie Olsen, a Cheeca spokeswoman. The change in ownership, she said, will not affect daily operations.
Originally called Islamorada Olney Inn, the resort – built in 1946 by Washington hotelier Cara Mae Downey – attracted a high-profile clientele from the start. President Harry S Truman was its first guest.
Grocery-chain heirs Carl and Cynthia "Che-Che" Twitchell bought the resort in 1961 and renamed the property, combining his first name and her nickname. Since then, it’s changed hands several times. Former owners include Coca-Cola bottler Carl Navarre and the Pritzger family of Chicago.
Former president George Bush has increased the resort’s notoriety in the past decade with his frequent visits, and the annual George Bush Sr.-Cheeca Lodge Charity Bonefish Tournament draws a celebrity crowd.
Amenities at the lodge include a par-3, nine-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, parasailing, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and snorkeling.
Ms. Olsen said Denver-based RockResorts signed a 20-year contract to continue managing the property.