Michael Welly steps down with Longboat Key Club sale
Editor & Publisher
Key Club Associates announced this week it has agreed to sell the Longboat Key Club & Resort for an undisclosed price to an affiliate of Ocean Properties, Ltd.
Although the news was expected, what the repercussions will be on a myriad of issues remains in the balance.
For instance, will Ocean Properties move forward with the Islandside redevelopment application as it now exists, or will it take a wait and see and possibly modify approach?
Will Ocean Properties attempt to create a new membership and golf-use environment where visitors to the other hotels it owns in the area and on Longboat will have access as Inn on the Beach currently does to play at the Club’s golfing facilities?
One question that has been answered is the departure of Michael Welly who has managed the Club for the past eight years and has overseen the resolution of several challenges and helped position the club for redevelopment.
Welly said that once the sale is complete, he will be leaving his post.
Several Longboat residents have already expressed dismay and a sense of community loss for someone they feel has been supportive of initiatives and activities island-wide.
For many on the Key, the hope is the same kind of close relationship Welly had with the community and developed with members will continue under the larger corporate infrastructure of Ocean Properties.
Era of improvement
For Hal Lenobel, a former three-time Mayor and Longboat Key Club member for more than 40 years, Welly did an outstanding job. And Lenobel, a former PGA rules official, historically was very critical of the operation and condition of the golf course.
“Under Welly the improvement to the golf course was tremendous. It was pretty run down and the fairways were bad and the greens were bad when he came aboard. Since he has been there, a marked improvement has taken place,” said Lenobel.
Lenobel continued his accolades. He said the food service has “improved tremendously” and most importantly, says Lenobel, the Key Club’s relationship with members also improved over the past.
“My hope is Ocean Properties continues the way Michael did,” said Lenobel.
Outgoing Chamber President Tom Aposporos refers to Welly as “The quintessential professional manager. He understands the role of his company in the community and as a result made the Longboat Key Club an extraordinary corporate citizen. That is demonstrated by all the areas you see the Key Club name in all it has supported in the region.”
For Longboat Realtor and long-time resident Andrew Vac, Welly grew the membership of the Club by “putting himself in front of the members as a friend and as person who would help and he communicated that he was there for them. Michael is extremely community oriented. To get you have to give and Michael knew how to give,” said Vac.
Welly came to the Loeb Partners Realty resort after working at the 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. Welly was also a senior vice president at Wyndham International Inc., and executive vice president and director of operations at Carnival Hotels, Resorts and Casinos.
During his time at the helm of the Longboat Key Club, Welly managed tens of millions of dollars in renovations to hotel rooms, the golf courses, its tennis complex and its marina property. Those initiatives are recognized by many in the Longboat Community and many credit the effort of Welly.
“Welly has done an outstanding job over the past eight years in making the Longboat Key Club the main economic engine of Longboat. Welly should feel good about that,” said Bob Gault, Longboat Key resident, Past President of Longboat Key Kiwanis Club and retiree from a 42-year career in the entertainment park industry including CEO of SeaWorld, Corporate Vice President of Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Corp, President of Universal Studios Hollywood; and Executive Vice President of Universal Studios Japan.
Gault added that he is excited about Ocean Properties and hopes they can fill Welly’s philanthropic shoes.
“Welly has been a huge supporter of Longboat Key’s Kiwanis Club, providing our venue every year for the Gourmet Lawn Party, which this year is on November 17. The funds from that charity event assist underprivileged children of the Sarasota and Manatee County communities. We hope we will get the same support from Ocean Properties. We will miss Welly,” said Gault.
Not all of the projects Welly undertook were simple approvals or initiatives.
Hearts and minds
Welly and his team had to literally restore and rebuild the Inn on the Beach rental program when he came aboard. A large number of owners had defected from the Key Club’s rental management program at the hotel after they were assessed for renovations and updating.
Welly successfully made the renovations and more importantly, successfully made his case to owners. Those who were unhappy and left the program came back and have been part of the program since.
Welly also oversaw the purchase and integration of Moorings slip owners into the Club. At first a rift took place, but over time through negotiation and give and take the Moorings slip owners and the Club worked out their issues and today the Moorings is an important aspect of the Club’s ownership interests.
Welly also pushed to develop the Tennis Gardens, which has become a signature facility and jump-started the Club’s initiative to redevelop and modernize and update the property.
Welly also led the $400 million expansion plan to add hotel and condominium rooms and meeting space at the Islandside development. The Islandside Property Owners Coalition successfully fought the plan having its approval overturned in court.
But in many ways Welly successfully won over the hearts and mind of the community and Town Commission. The Commission not only approved the plan, but also amended its codes to insulate it from being overturned again if the Club is to reapply.
That is why Bob White, president of IPOC, said he is optimistic about the sale to Ocean Properties and he hopes they create a redevelopment plan “that is legal and fits in the scale of what already exists at Islandside. Then that is something we could all support,” said White.
Litigation is still pending in a case against the Town of Longboat Key filed by IPOC.
In 2010, the Town approved the Islandside expansion plan, but Sarasota Circuit Court Judge Charles Roberts ruled the expansion plan was illegal and violated zoning rules. He called the approval a “Miscarriage of justice.”
The Town appealed Roberts’s decision. In August, the three-judge Second District Court of Appeal sided with IPOC and upheld the ruling.
Another trial concluded last month fighting the amended zoning codes and Comprehensive Plan changes in a due process argument, but that ruling is not expected until the end of November.
But the litigation outcome will not affect the sale. Ocean Properties and the Longboat Key Club say the sale will close by the end of this month.
“We look forward to being part of the Longboat Key Club & Resort and this community. We fully anticipate to close by the end of the month,” said Andy Berger of Ocean Properties, Ltd. “Longboat Key Club & Resort is an amazing place and an excellent complement to our family of properties.”
As the Longboat Key News reported in August, The Longboat Key Club, owned and managed by Loeb Partners Realty based in New York City, entered into a joint venture with Ocean Properties, Ltd., a major hotel development and operating group.
Sarasota attorney John Patterson told Longboat Key News back in August that the contract was in the due diligence phase. Sources then said the deal was likely to close by year-end and was not contingent on the outcome of the Islandside redevelopment rights, which at the time were being challenged in court.
Ocean Properties already owns the Hilton Inn on Longboat Key as well as the Lido Beach Resort and the Holiday Inn on Lido Key.
Patterson said the agreement could spell an exciting new era for Longboat Key and its redevelopment.
“The marketing for Longboat and this area could be tremendous. Ocean Properties already has three properties here — this is major,” said Patterson.
Patterson is representing Ocean Properties in redevelopment efforts at the Hilton on Longboat Key and is thereby was recused from representation in the sale.
The family of its president, Michael Walsh, controls Ocean properties. The company was founded in the 1950s by Thomas T. Walsh, a former linen and bedding salesman from Bangor, Maine as a small family business with one hotel and since has grown into one of the largest privately held hotel operating and development groups in North America operating 107 hotels with 17,936 guestrooms. Today, the company is managed by Walsh and his five children: Mark, Mike, Patrick, Bill and Susan.
Ocean Properties is the largest hotel company in Florida operating more than 30 hotels across the State. The Company has corporate offices in Delray Beach, FL; Portsmouth, NH; Montreal, QC and Vancouver, BC.
Ocean Properties, Ltd & Affiliates purchased Atlific Hotels & Resorts, the largest independent hotel management company in Canada in 1997. Atlific operates hotels in Canada, from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia.
In addition to developing and managing hotels and resorts, Ocean Properties, Ltd & Affiliates develop and operate restaurants, spas, golf courses, commercial real estate, marina operations and boating tours, often on behalf of third party investors and lenders.
The Longboat Key Club is comprised of more than 400 acres, 45 holes of golf, the golf and tennis courts and club assets as well as six restaurants, the 9,000 square–foot Island House Spa, meeting areas and the Inn on the Beach Hotel with 218 rooms. It is recognized as a AAA Four-Diamond Resort and the United States Tennis Association gave it the “Outstanding Facility Award” for its Tennis Gardens.
The Hilton deal
Earlier this year, Ocean Properties released its plans to give the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort a $25 million renovation.
The plans include: a complete renovation of the largest structure, tearing down most of the remaining existing structures, building a new reception area, large water features, a large courtyard, new swimming pool, rooms angled to optimize waterfront views and a larger meeting space that would double its current size.
Ocean properties plans to ask from the Longboat key Town Commission for approximately 85 of the 250 tourist units that residents voted into existence in 2008.
Demolition may begin as early as May 2013 with a planned renovation period of 10 to 12 months.