Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach
Published January 19, 2010
— Rising more than 200 feet above the white sands of Singer Island, the
marble- and onyx-appointed Resort at Singer Island opened to rave reviews
in 2007, attracting the likes of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama
and tennis star Jennifer Capriati.
“It’s heaven on Earth,” cooed Riviera Beach
Mayor Thomas Masters, a Baptist preacher.
Celebrity-watching and biblical references aside,
the resort has become a living hell for many who thought they could make
money by buying one of its 239 units.
“It’s just been a devastating thing,” said Sam
Lasorda, owner of a Pennsylvania pest control company. “It’s been a
Court records show nearly 60 units are in
foreclosure. At least $1.5 million in assessments hasn’t been paid. And
those numbers are expected to increase.
“I have no intention of paying any more of those
fees,” said George Melillo, a retired pharmaceutical company executive
who lives in Naples. “At the first of the year I decided to take my
$300,000 loss and go on my way.”
Real estate experts aren’t surprised that the
luxury hotel is in trouble.
Conceived at the height of the sizzling real estate
boom, the resort is a condo-hotel. Owners said they plunked down hundreds
of thousands of dollars with the promise that they would make money when
the units were rented for as much as $600 a night.
Of course, the big returns never came, said Jack
McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach.
“It was a failed business model from the
get-go,” he said of the concept that was used to finance hotels in
tourist meccas nationwide. “None of them is yielding any positive income
Like other condotel owners, those at the resort were
hit hard by the recession. But owners of the Singer Island condotel were
A year after developer WCI Communities completed the
project, its then-chairman, billionaire financier Carl Icahn, announced it
was filing for bankruptcy. As part of its reorganization, it sold the $210
million resort to Bethesda, Md.-based Urgo Hotels for $7.1 million.
Instead of being run by the upscale Starwood brand, it is part of the more
pedestrian Marriott chain, which doesn’t fetch the promised sky-high
“It was like the perfect storm,” said Lasorda,
whose $750,000 two-bedroom unit is now appraised at $240,000. But the
economic storm isn’t what hurt the owners. They say they were victims of
Owners said they were told the investment was a sure
moneymaker. “They said it would be a 75-25, possibly a 65-35, split in
our favor,” said Melillo, who paid $995,000 for his unit.
What they weren’t told was that various charges
would eat into their profits. Owners are charged for housekeeping,
reservation expenses, agent commissions, marketing, maintenance and
After all the expenses had been paid, the $50,402
one owner made in 2008 was reduced to $21,790. But that didn’t include
the $2,650 monthly assessments, $8,300 in annual property taxes, $1,000
for yearly insurance or $40,000-a-year mortgage, plus other expenses. They
turned the $21,290 profit into a nearly $60,000 loss.
For Jupiter resident Ray Johnson, it became too
“I stopped paying,” he said. “I’ve never
done anything like it in my life. It’s a personal hell for me, but it
was a matter of survival.”
His $750,000 unit is now in foreclosure. He received
an offer for $150,000.
Kevin Urgo, a senior vice president for the hotel
chain, said he understands the frustration of the unit owners in the
renamed Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Resort & Spa. Since taking
over two months ago, the company has worked to reduce costs and increase
revenue, he said.
When it bought the hotel, it also assumed ownership
of 14 of the hotel units and four of the 66 residential condominiums, one
of which tennis champ Capriati owns. It means the company has a big stake
in keeping the costs under control, Urgo said.
“You’re going to see a turnaround in fairly
short order,” he said.
Owners suspect it will cost them. The lobby is being
renovated to reflect Marriott’s signature “Great Room” concept. The
chain said reserve accounts will be tapped to pay for the renovation.
Owners expect to be asked to beef up depleted accounts.
The frustration is that they don’t know if they
can stop it. Urgo said he isn’t sure what approvals would be needed.
McCabe has this advice for owners: “Dump it and
get out as soon as you can. The longer you stay in it, the more money
you’re going to lose.”
Many said they plan to heed that advice.
“It’s sad. It’s such a beautiful property,”
Johnson said. “It could have been such a gem for Singer Island.”