Key Club joint venture could usher in new era
Editor & Publisher
Life and Longboat Key are always in flux. Just when you make an opinion or form an attitude about anything — the color of beach sand, a community center, the pensions or the Longboat Key Club expansion — another twist of life like a car careening down a freeway opens another landscape, another way to look at the so-called facts.
Take the joint venture we reported last Tuesday between The Longboat Key Club and Ocean Properties.
Some have already expressed cynicism: “Ocean Properties manages a Day’s Inn — that is awful for Longboat Key.”
Others marvel and know of the special place in American travel the Sagamore is on Lake George, another Ocean Properties holding.
Perhaps, and on Longboat Key I am sure I will be called far worse, I am an optimist. I see what anyone could and should have seen two years ago.
The Key Club, through Loeb Partners Realty, sought to increase and define its building envelope so it could have something of added value for either a sale or redevelopment capital. Now the fruits are showing.
Take the fact that one of the main criticisms of the Key Club is it never built or managed a five-star resort and that Loeb owns mostly office buildings.
But whether Loeb keeps a large equity share or a complete sale eventually comes about, Ocean Properties opens up many possibilities for Longboat Key and the area in general.
For instance, Ocean Properties also owns the Lido Beach Resort, the Longboat Key Hilton and Lido Holiday Inn. Not one of those facilities has access to golf or tennis.
In testimony in support of the Longboat Key Club redevelopment, the Club stated that golf on the whole as a sport is in decline and that coupled with a plethora of golfing opportunities and communities has had a serious impact on the number of Key Club golfing members.
Memberships once topped more than 2,000 on Longboat Key and now that number is a fraction — far less than a thousand according to reports.
And all the while, the condition of the golf course according to most every member interviewed has only gotten better under Mike Welly and the maintenance team.
In short, the market fundamentals are working against the Club when it comes to golf. That is not a gimmick argument; it is borne out day in and day out when you drive by the empty holes. These are trends that must be addressed.
Tennis and golf, anyone?
So it will come as no surprise when in a partnership with Ocean Properties, the Key Club will want to try and restructure the golfing arrangements to allow visitors to its hotels and resorts access to the golf courses at the Key Club.
Currently, two obstacles are the Tee Time lawsuit, which dictates access to members as well as the original conditions of approval of the Longboat Key Club.
The current stipulations allow access to Inn on the Beach guests, but that is the extant other than usage by members.
Now on its face, members may bristle at the idea of their course being used by Hilton or Lido Beach Resort guests. That will have to be addressed on one hand. Their rights to tee times and priority will have to honored.
But the synergy of marketing future Hilton and Lido Beach Resort visitors as having access to a premier golf and tennis facility would do two things:
A) Make Longboat that much more desirable from a vacationing and marketing standpoint and B) elevate the price point and type of visitor who will be attracted to those locations.
Use it or lose it…
There is another market pragmatism that needs to be mentioned. If such an innovation or strategy is not employed, than are we really going to expect the Club to underwrite an operation that loses members with little hope of regaining the glory of yesteryear as far as membership goes?
One could argue that the Club would then be wise to seek to develop one of its courses at Bay Isles with homes and large lots. That would return an investment to Loeb shareholders.
But that kind of ideation can be prevented if the community supports measures to allow the Club increased usage opportunities.
And perhaps, just perhaps, the owners of Ocean Properties will see Longboat Key as their landmark destination and become stewards of our island. And that stewardship would marry well with the hand of Key Club Manager Mike Welly.
Whether you agree with the Islandside redevelopment plan or not, one truth remains: Mike Welly as manager of the Club and Loeb in general have been strong investors of time, money and passion on our tiny Key.
The previous owners and management had a different disposition and the Club has paid a price for an earlier era or arrogance. We ought applaud Welly for the efforts he has made to resolve the many disputes and becoming one of the most participatory members of the community.
Personally, I prefer to see Longboat thriving once again as a destination to visit with a rebuilt Colony, the Hilton and Inn on the Beach all busy with lovers of high-end golf and tennis experiences. Better that than watching the infighting at Islandside and the Colony conundrum go on ad infinitum.
Perhaps there is hope at the end of this hurricane.