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Whittall on Colony: ‘We have listened to Longboat’

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

All of Longboat seems to agree on one sentiment: a rebuilt Colony resort is a great benefit to the island. But how we get there, what size, what height and whether it should be mixed use or solely tourism are all questions that have as many answers as Longboat’s 7,000 residents.

WHITTALL

Only last March, Unicorp asked voters to allow 180 residential units to be added to the 237 hotel rooms that are allowed on the site. More than 80 percent of the voters said, “no.”

This week, Unicorp is back with a proposal for redevelopment that can be allowed by the town without voter approval. In short, it has been scaled back in both unit count, height and setbacks. Unicorp President Chuck Whittall spoke with Longboat Key News on Friday about the plan. Here is what he had to say:

 

What did you learn about Longboat Key and its residents following the defeat in March?

The town made it clear it is very nervous about traffic. The plan they voted down would have increased traffic and we had proposed ways to offset that. This plan will not add any traffic over what existed in the previous Colony. It is traffic neutral. We have established that through an extensive traffic engineering study by Kimberly Horn. In fact, if someone rebuilt the Colony at the same number of units and made it all tourism, it would have equal or more traffic than what we are proposing. Essentially, by having less tourism units and allowing the residential units, it decreases the traffic.

 

What has been done with the size and scale?

Before we proposed 120 feet in height and 11 stories. Now we have scaled it down to five stories and a maximum of 65 feet.

 

Why 65 feet?

We met with the town planning department staff and they told us that is what is allowed in the zoning district. We have also decreased the setbacks on the front and the side and the setbacks will be greater than what the town code requires. We also cut the density and are asking for 268 units which ends up being 15.3 units per acre. The Zota Beach Resort, which the town approved, is over 40 units per acre.

 

What is it you need from the town, or where are you departing from codes?

I think we are asking for a floor area ratio departure and primarily we are asking for the allocation of tourism units out of the pool that the commission controls. The reason we have offered two different paths is the town can then decide whether it wants to use up all of its tourism units, or try and preserve them and allocate them somewhere else.

 

How is it guaranteed that the hotel will be a St. Regis? Can that change?

We have a signed term sheet with St. Regis. It is a long-term agreement. We will commit to the town that the hotel will be a five-star hotel. There are only 11 St. Regis hotels in the United States and the only other five-star hotel on the west coast of Florida is the Ritz Carlton in Naples.

 

What does that mean in development standards or when it comes to the development outcome when you say it will be a five-star hotel?

The difference is multi-fold. There will be significantly more plush landscaping and water features, and all of the rooms in the hotel will be built to a higher standard with specifically more selective construction materials.

 

How large do you expect the condominiums to be? And at what price point?

The condominiums will average 2,800 square feet and we plan to bring them to market between $3 million to $7 million. The average room rate for the hotel will likely be $700 per night.

 

Although you can legally represent the Colony and apply for the project, isn’t it true you do not control all of the assets and specifically Andy Adams still owns a majority of the units?

It’s the chicken or egg. If the town turns us down to build this, why would I want to buy Andy’s property? Andy Adams is a willing seller, but we just have not agreed on a price. It is not the town’s job to base an approval on whether one individual will sell or not. This is the way business is done. Ninety percent of our developments we build at Unicorp are based on getting an approval. We are the only entity situated to redevelop the Colony. I own 10 percent of the Colony units, all of the commercial units and commercial property. The property cannot be redeveloped without what I have. The same can be said of Andy Adams. But his goal is not to redevelop the property and ours is.

 

Why not just build a Colony tourism hotel resort, which is closer to what existed on the site?

We cannot just build a hotel and make it financially work. But additionally, the current Colony could  not be built given the town’s codes. It would not meet open space requirements, it does not meet FEMA standards and many of the buildings are beyond the erosion control line.

 

How will residents be able to use the site?

Residents and visitors will be able to use all of the restaurants, the tiki bar and piano bar and lounge, also all of the resort amenities can be used with a visit to the spa.

 

So what’s next?

We will attend a development review meeting with the town in the next month. We will then start addressing the town’s comments on the proposal. We have received approval from Aquarius residents, our neighbors to the north, and we are close to working everything out with Tencom to the south. I plan on having a residence at the Colony and have taken an extremely personal interest in the project.

 

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Longboat Key News

8 Responses for “Whittall on Colony: ‘We have listened to Longboat’”

  1. Longtimeemployee says:

    I began working at the colony in 1972. For 18 years the property gilded the quote of Casual Elegance. Tennis brought in people from around the world, and made families of families and Memories Forever. These people now have homes in Sarasota. I lived through the greed of the Klauber family. The 272 owners of the 245 units came and played and played for tennis. From my history of the type of clientele that is attracted to and will pay for this type of vacation, good luck at that price point. Million dollar condos are a dime a dozen. Tennis is still the name of the game.

  2. Chuck Whittall says:

    I hear a couple things over and over and want to address them.

    First the reason that we do not have tennis courts is that while the Colony has been closed for over 7 years The Town of Longboat Key and also The Longboat Key Club have developed first class tennis facilities. Our focus is going to be on a beach and spa resort with a focus on health and well being.

    Secondly, I see mention of the viability of a 5 Star hotel on Longboat.
    We have completed an extensive study performed by Ernst & Young and the report Cleary demonstrates that a 5 Star hotel will be successful in Longboat Key. There are already several 4 Star hotels in the market. This will be the 2nd Five Star hotel on the west coast of Florida and won’t compete with other resorts on The Key.

    Let’s discuss experience. Our development company has been developing for well over 20 years and we have built over 3 Billion Dollars of high end projects. We were just named by the Orlando Business Journal as developer of the year for 2017. Of course we will not operate the hotel, we are developers. That’s why we will have the best of the best hotel companies operate it.

    One more thing…

    To clear up confusion Unicorp has a signed agreement with The Colony and we are the chosen developer and the AGREEMENT IS IN FULL FORCE. Anything stated to the contrary is incorrect.

    Chuck

  3. Blake Fleetwood says:

    I lot of five star hotels have gone belly up recently.
    They are closed or unfininished and languish forever.

    Whittall has no experience with a five star resort and it is unlikely that anyone will give hundreds of millions to a developer with no experience.

    He has not demonstrated that he has the money yet.

    Moreover he does not have the approval of the condo owners which voted him down massively last time the Assocition voted.

    There are several other developers who have the experience and the money to step in right now

    Unicorps is wannabe developer and will probably flip the project in the long run

  4. r.simson says:

    It does make realistic sense-the main claim to fame was the concept of a tennis resort-where has the tennis gone????
    The fans came to the Colony for family and tennis plus a good time at reasonable cost-this all looks like a no start to me -only based on my lifetime in Banking!!!!

  5. Marglo says:

    The hotel will fail because Longboat Key isn’t the place to build a 5 star hotel. Then the 237 hotel rooms will be reconfigured as condos and someone will make a ton of money. To throw away the tennis resort
    concept is tragic. This is a fiasco.

  6. ghostrider says:

    FWIW

    Mr. Whittall wants 180 additional units at 2800 square feet each. That comes to 11.57 acres of floor space. How many floors does that translate to? (Remember—the aforementioned doesn’t include the planned hotel rooms.)

  7. ghostrider says:

    “The condominiums will average 2,800 square feet and we plan to bring them to market between $3 million to $7 million. The average room rate for the hotel will likely be $700 per night.”

    Count me in. I like it. What’s $1000/sq foot to laundered money? I’m impressed with the naivete of those involved. Of course, there is no intention of actually having them at these price points. I sincerely hope everyone understands that.

    I admire the financial ploy, but, with a Recession straight ahead it may get dicey. I only want to know who takes the dollar hit. Are you telling me that there isn’t one person on Longboat that knows what is going on here? For real? We need to do lunch and then I can tell you about the details stated on the blank side of the Contract.

  8. AS RAPTOULIS MD says:

    Nice try! Why condo units and hotel rooms at 700/night? Perhaps when the hotel goes “belly up” the condo owners will be on “the hook”. It clearly is not The Colony.Put lipstick on a pig and you don’t get a princess.

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