Developer gains greater control of Colony property

Article Courtesy of The Herald-Tribune
By Chris Wille

Published June 14, 2018

LONGBOAT KEY — The highly valued land under the dolefully dilapidated Colony Beach & Tennis Resort appears primed for resurrection once again.

Come Thanksgiving of 2021, Longboat Key could bear witness to the opening date of a long-sought community desire for the redevelopment of a property fallen into the deep depths of degradation. Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments expressed progress toward that goal on Saturday.

One of few remaining condo owners in the dilapidated resort sold his interests to the developer who has the Town of Longboat Key’s approval to build a 166-room, 78-condominium St. Regis Hotel and Residences at the site.

Regardless of the property sale, the Town of Longboat Key issued an emergency demolition order for almost all of the Colony buildings this month, and that order will proceed.

Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments already owns about 67 percent of the condominiums as well as 95 percent of the recreational and commercial property.

Blake Fleetwood, who had been rejecting buyout offers in opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the once renown resort, sold his two beachfront units to Unicorp in a contract signed several weeks ago. He has not responded to several requests for comment on Saturday.

The contract stipulates that Fleetwood waive his power to appeal the town commission’s decision to authorize the redevelopment of the 17.6-acre Colony tract. He also resigned from the board of the Colony’s condominium association.

While the sales price for the Fleetwood properties was kept secret by the contract’s confidentiality clause, Unicrop previously offered unit owners payments of $170,000 for each condo, with an extra $100,000 for units in the mid-rise building and a $200,000 bonus for beachfront units — a $40 million-plus package.

Chuck Whittall, Unicorp’s president and founder, has been striving to redevelop the property for the past five and a half years. “We’re happy that (Fleetwood) finally decided to sell,” he said Saturday while aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. “That’s one of the pieces of the puzzle that we needed.

“It gives us the ability to end the appeal, which was holding up our zoning approval, and now we’re able to move forward straight to permit, which will still take us about 12 months.”

He anticipates a year to township permit approval, breaking ground the “middle of next year, provided the termination suit is completed,” and project completion by Thanksgiving of 2021.

Legal hurdle

But a major legal hurdle remains.

While Fleetwood abandoned his motion to dismiss Unicorp’s lawsuit against condo association members in Unicorp’s bid to dissolve the organization, Whittall is proceeding with the lawsuit. That suit seeks to strip the holdouts of the ability to halt the redevelopment of the property, he said, by terminating the condo association without its members’ consent on the grounds that the property is decrepit and a threat to public safety.

Such a ruling on those grounds would supersede the usual procedure where 95 percent of the members would need to agree to terminate the association, but Unicorp faces a legal fight. Andy Adams owns 70 of the 237 units. “That’s why we filed the termination suit,” Whittall said.

State law allows the dissolution of a condo association if the property is “an economic waste, it’s essentially obsolete,” Whittall said.

The Town of Longboat Key issued an emergency demolition order for almost all of the buildings at the vermin- and termite-infested resort after deeming the condos to be “unsafe and unfit.” The town commissioned an independent engineering firm to examine the buildings on three occasions, and the reports emphatically stated the Colony site was a public nuisance with dangerous structures in unsafe conditions.

Once a world-class destination, the Colony collapsed in a legal quagmire about a decade ago, closed and continued deteriorating.

Allen Parsons, the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building director, said Saturday that demolition will proceed. “The Town’s foremost priority remains the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and visitors,” he said. “The Town is proceeding with actions to help ensure that, following all due process efforts.”

The emergency order provided notice that demolition may begin on or after June 15, he added.

After dozens of lawsuits and bankruptcies, Unicorp has “95 percent of that is behind us,” Whittall said. Two impediments remain.

One, the building permit from the Town of Longboat Key, the development of which has already been approved.

The second is the resolution of the condo association’s dissolution. “It’s really just finalizing the termination with the court,” Whittall said, not the permitting.

“Once those two items happen, we’ll be ready to start construction,” he said.

One of Fleetwood’s condos, Unit No. 212, was built in 1960 with 680 square feet and purchased by Fleetwood in June 2013 for $205,000, according to Sarasota County property records. The other unit, No. 110S with 705 square feet and built in 1973, was purchased by Fleetwood in June 2013 for $35,000.

Another issue remains, too, though resolution appears imminent. While Unicorp owns many individual condo units, the company also controls a 95 percent stake in the 2.3 acres of Colony property that holds the restaurant, delicatessen, swimming pool and many tennis courts. Investor Adams owns the remaining 5 percent.

The sale of that land will be determined in court on July 24, Whittall said, but he expects the ruling will consolidate the recreational property into Unicorp’s hands.