No Spin Zone

Positive Change will post the most recent disinformation from the opposition concerning the Club's redevelopment plan, and respond with the FACTS here:

  • "Paradise Lost" Think again if you believe Longboat Key Club is not important to Longboat Key!

    April 03, 2012

     

    Paradise Lost?—New York Times

     

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    FISHER ISLAND, Florida: On Jan. 12, Richard Goodwin, who made a fortune building condominiums, publicly lamented his own real estate woes. In a letter to The Fisher Island Voice, an online forum for residents of this tiny, gilded island less than a mile off Miami, he wrote, "I have $1.2 million invested" in property here, and "I am suffering under a 40 percent meltdown of my net worth."

    Just a year ago, his revelations would have seemed unthinkable on Fisher Island, one of the country's wealthiest communities, whose residents relish the privacy of their mini-paradise.

    Chock full of Mediterranean-style condominiums facing the sea, the Miami skyline or a golf course, the isle features yachts moored in private marinas, flamingos that stroll on the sixth hole and peacocks that occasionally preen atop a parked Rolls-Royce. Oprah Winfrey, Mel Brooks and the financier Martin Zweig are just a few boldface names who have called Fisher Island home.

    But even here, a haven for wealthy families since the late 1980s, the economic storms are bearing down. About a quarter of the island's 695 condos are up for sale, roughly double the number on the market in recent years, and few are finding buyers. Sellers are cutting prices, brokers say, and one unit is in foreclosure, a surprise to some residents of a place where home prices range from $335,000 to $30 million.

    "Nobody has unlimited net worth," said Ted Pincus, a retired public relations executive who owns a five-bedroom home here. "Fisher Island has been hit like everybody else."

    Wealth is no immunization against this downturn. Across the United States, the sinking economy is affecting even the most luxurious communities and causing anxiety among residents. On Nantucket, the island off of Massachusetts, the value of homes sold last year was $445 million, down almost 50 percent from 2005.

    In Southhampton village on Long Island, New York, the real estate market dropped by a third last year, to $346 million. And the Yellowstone Club, a retreat for the superrich in Big Sky, Montana, filed for bankruptcy last year.

    "The wealthiest people are cutting back, too," said James Hardesty, of Hardesty Capital Management. "They are scared. This has been a very tough market for a lot of people, and of course they have lost money."

    A real estate broker on Fisher Island, Denise LeVine, calculates that 30 homes were sold last year, compared with 100 in 2005. She said one condominium that sold recently for $3.4 million had been bought just two years ago for $4.2 million. (The Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches does not have definitive data because Fisher Island is not an incorporated city.)

    One British family has put two oceanfront condos on the market for $2.99 million each, said Elena Bluntzer, the broker who is listing them. She promoted one of the units in a flier as a possible short sale, which means the selling price could end up less than the mortgage.

    "Some of the homes have been on the market for a year," Bluntzer said.

    In the meantime, Fisher Island Holdings, which owns the island and is the sole builder, has chosen not to start work on a planned condominium building. The company is controlled by Joseph Kay, an entrepreneur from the Republic of Georgia.

    Kay declined to comment for this article.

    Until last year, some residents of the island thought it had special features that would help shield it from economic hurricanes. It is only 20 minutes from Miami International Airport, and it attracts a wide variety of buyers. About 70 percent of residents come from outside the United States. Moreover, its appeal extends beyond retirees or families looking for a second home; many residents live on the island year-round.

    That diversity was in full view at the beach club one morning, where guests were speaking English, Spanish and Russian. The crowd varied from sedate grandparents surrounded by a clutch of family members to fit young men in $200 Vilebrequin swimsuits.

    When the economy was soaring, few worried about the high cost of living here. But the downturn has created tension, and many residents are trying to rein in spending.

    That's tough to do when you live in a place where the board of the country club recently approved a plan to spend $60 million in upgrades. That has caused some tenants, like Goodwin, whose annual expenses run to $80,000 for a 720-square-foot, or 67-square-meter, home, to put his property up for sale.

    "It was a grandiose program that went directly into the eye of the storm," he said. "I used to be rich and by American standards, I still am. But now it is a time for people like me to hunker down."

    Certainly, this 216-acre, or 87-hectare, island is luxurious. It has 14 pools, 16 tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course, all set against a backdrop of lush gardens that are tended by 49 employees. Residents tool around in golf carts or cars. The island, which also has seven restaurants, a high-end spa, its own school, a playground and two marinas, can be reached only by a fleet of island-owned ferries.

    Counting taxes, insurance, condo fees, club dues and expenses for island upkeep, the annual carrying costs of a condo on Fisher Island can range from $60,000 to nearly $300,000.

    To Joe Zammit-Lucia, who recently created The Fisher Island Voice, such fees did not bother people during the halcyon days of a booming economy. "There was an underlying testosterone-laden arrogance," said Zammit-Lucia, a native of England who founded a medical consulting business with his wife, which they later sold. They live on the island for much of the year.

    "The view was: this is a first-class community and we can afford" all the luxurious amenities, Zammit-Lucia said over breakfast at the beach club. "It is like the way investment bankers act: we can afford the $10,000 bottle of wine at our closing dinner, so why not?"

    Over the years there have been battles between residents and some previous owners of the island. And in 2005, some residents became upset when Fisher Island Holdings began organizing galas, like one for Spanish Vogue, that drew hundreds of outsiders who clogged the island. Many of the events were held around the opulent stone and marble mansion originally built by William Vanderbilt, who spent time there in the early part of the 20th century.

    "They wanted to turn the island into the Monte Carlo of Florida," said one resident, who declined to be identified because he did not want to discuss island issues publicly.

    Eager to grab back their privacy, residents overwhelmingly voted in 2006 to take over ownership of the club from Fisher Island Holdings. Until that time, annual club dues were subsidized by the company, and ran about $8,000. But over the next two years, without the subsidy, they jumped to $20,000, on top of a one-time $250,000 membership fee.

    Then the economy turned sour.

    Residents and management officials are quick to point out that the island is on solid financial footing. Mark James, chief executive of the Fisher Island Community Association, which maintains the island, said in a statement that the island "is in a far better financial position than many communities."

    James added that the "budget is balanced, we ended 2008 with a small surplus, and none of the associations on the island is in financial peril."

    Still, some of the island's premier properties are for sale. Bruce McMahan, a hedge fund executive, has put his 7,300-square-foot condominium, which he used exclusively to entertain business associates, on the market, along with all its art, for $30 million.

    Its walls are covered with copies of paintings from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The paintings are by a team brought over from Russia by McMahan, who heads Argent Funds Group. There is also a collection of Fabergé eggs and boxes and original correspondence from the Romanov family, which ruled imperial Russia, all housed in what is called the "Romanov bedroom." Two Rodin sculptures adorn a terrace that fronts the ocean and is guarded by a German shepherd.

    McMahan did not return phone calls seeking comment.

    A number of residents say many expenses have gone up unnecessarily, prompted by other owners who seem immune to worries about spending.

    Barney Rosenzweig, who made his fortune as the producer of the hit American TV show "Cagney & Lacey" and retired to Fisher Island in 1995, calls the tension a "battle between the haves and the have-mores."

    Part of the bulging expense is attributable to the rising insurance costs in Florida, something that is beyond Fisher Island's control.

    Pincus owns a 5,900-square-foot home and pays more than $200,000 annually in taxes and fees. He says his property taxes have nearly doubled, to $115,000 from $60,000 five years ago. Other fees include $22,000 toward upkeep (paid to the Fisher Island Community Association), $35,000 for his condominium unit and $21,000 in dues for the country club.

    It's all but impossible to live on the island and not belong to the country club, which offers access to golf, tennis, a spa and six of the seven restaurants. That helps explain why friction intensified with the decision in early 2008 to charge a $60 million assessment to redo the club, part of which was $16 million for a makeover of the spa, at a time when other costs were rising. Even though Fisher Island's developer agreed to contribute $25 million toward modernizing the club, that still meant the balance would have to be paid by the members - a bill of about $54,000 a member, payable over 10 years.

    Steve Jones, who quit the construction business in 1987 and bought his home in the early 1990s, has put it on the market. He is angry that people who want to sell their memberships back to the country club may have to wait for years because of complicated rules. And he says it is unfair that each resident pays the same community association fee, regardless of the size of the home.

    The costs have "just zapped the older residents who are retired," Jones said. "The poor are subsidizing the rich."

    Michael Ashkin, a board member who defends the need for improvements, argues that the costs have gone up only because they were artificially depressed for years because of the developer's subsidies. He says the fees are similar to those of other clubs in South Florida.

    Tony Fano, president of the country club's board, called the increases inevitable. "I have respect and empathy for people," he said. But "if people were in our shoes faced with that decision, they would have made the same one."

    In a sign of the divide, three new candidates running for the country club board are proposing cost controls. Some changes would be minor, like turning off the night lights on the tennis courts and merging accounting staffs at various operations. The most significant proposal would cut spending on the spa. But they are hardly enough to placate some protesters.

    "It will not be enough," said Alan Trustman, a resident who wrote screenplays decades ago for the original version of "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "Bullitt." "They don't know how to manage costs."

    In the meantime, Larry Brown, the chief executive of Fisher Island's country club unit, is considering cost-cutting measures in the club's daily operations. He has already come up with a less expensive dinner menu at one of the restaurants, where entrees now cost $10 to $18.

    Ted Pincus, for his part, said he believed that if the cost-cutting drive went too far, it would destroy the island's quality of life. "This is the last bastion of tranquillity in a world overrun by tourists or populated with prosaic retirement villages," he said. "Some will pay the premium just as some people will cough up whatever it takes to buy a Rolls-Royce."

     

    Also appeared 2/1 in the following publications with a different headline:

     

    Global crisis storms into a Miami havenInternational Herald Tribune

    Fisher Island: Still a Refuge, but Not From the Downturn—Sarasota Herald Tribune

     

  • Aspen/Snowmass Get It.....IPOC/Ray Rajewski Do Not Get It. Affluent want the Latest and Greatest...!

    April 03, 2012

     

    David Brenner’s Competing Candidate, Ray Rajewski, made some amazing statements and claims in a recent mailing. It is apparent that Ray will say no to the Longboat Key Redevelopment. It is also apparent that his factual claims about Aspen/Snowmass are completely incorrect! Rather, the facts are the exact opposite as Aspen/Snowmass has had substantial growth in hotel rooms and condos over the last 20 years. He is correct that they have tight zoning codes like Longboat Key. The difference between Aspen/Snowmass and Longboat Key is the realization that affluent travelers and residents want top notch housing whether it be hotel rooms or condos. Aspen/Snowmass knows it’s primary business is tourism and Longboat Key is just coming to grips with the fact that people first come to Longboat as tourists and then they decide to become residents. David Brenner gets it while Ray is apparently in denial. Longboat Key has gone backwards losing 383 hotel rooms and seen the key tourist amenities decline, while Aspen has spent billions in both upgrading their golf, skiing, condos and hotels.

     

  • Aspen Realtor Helps with Perspective on Difference Between IPOC's Future for Longboat Key and what is happening in Aspen!

    April 03, 2012

     

    ?

    I sent the above PDF to my friend Mark Haldeman, who lives in Aspen for his review for accuracy. He has lived in Aspen since 1983 and been a solid realtor for years. Below is his letter back to me blowing away Ray Rajewski’s claims that Aspen has not added to it tourist hotel/condo rooms over the last 20 years! The actual truth is quite the opposite and yes Aspen does have tough building codes but they get it. Upscale clients want new stuff through redevelopment. Without it, they will not come………….

    Below is Mark’s response to my request for accuracy:

    Rick, Ray may be making a differentiation between Aspen and Snowmass in his statement. However, even if you exclude Snowmass, your statements are correct. The St Regis, The Ritz Carlton, and the Hyatt were all built less than 20 years ago. Not to mention the Dancing Bear fractional interests which have been recently purchased by new owners, with Phase 2 to be back under construction in the near future, the newly constructed Limelight Hotel, and the Monarch on the Park Condos.

    In addition, if it were not for the economic downturn, the entire 1A side (west side) of the base of Aspen Mountain would have been redeveloped with the inclusion of 2 new hotels. Basically, Aspen is not developing because of current economic conditions, rather than anti-development sentiment. Resort communities like Aspen cannot exist without the cash trickle down effect of development/redevelopment. If you think the super wealthy want to check into resort housing, recreational amenities and meeting facilities of any kind that haven’t been touched in 20 years, you're sadly mistaken. Therefore, our community is constantly reinventing itself. Whether its new lifts, new hotels and restaurants or remodeling what's already in place, In our tourist based economy, you either stay current or you lose tourist dollars to the other new and more modernized mountain resort communities.

    Mark Haldeman Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty 415 E Hyman Avenue Aspen, CO 81611 (970) 429-3768 direct mhalde1067@aol.com www.AspenSnowmassSIR.com

  • IPOC Lost the March Election Despite a Huge Push to inject Their Candidate

    April 03, 2012

    Recently, we had another commissioner election on Longboat Key.  While many IPOC Supporters like to believe that they won by making it so close, the reality once again is much different as they lost despite a huge push!  Of course, IPOC once again twisted the facts as their candidate, Ray Rajewski, wrote a letter and gave speeches bantering about how Aspen, Colorado, has successfully controlled their hotel room growth which has led to their high real estate values!X!X!X  However, the truth, is actually quite different.  Snowmass Mountain has recently opened a brand new base mountain resort named The Viceroy!  It's purpose is to attract brand new visitors to Aspen/Snowmass who will hopefully  one day decide to become homeowners.  Wow, how can IPOC and their supporters get it so wrong. So, I will restate the obvious once again.  People come to resort areas first as visitors and then decide to become homeowners.               Rick Crawford

    PS:  The Viceroy has been called a "boutique" hotel by Conde' Nast.  So I guess 173 rooms is "boutique" rather than a "Convention Center" like IPOC paints????? 

  • "I don't want Longboat to change-I want it to stay the same."

    September 17, 2009

    Today, Longboat Key is already in a state of change. Tourism is shrinking, and businesses are closing left and right.

    To "stay the same" at this point, Longboat Key needs to introduce growth. Without more visitors, especially during the slower summer months, Longboat Key will become something it has never been–a community in decline.

    To "Keep Longboat Longboat" for generations to come, we need to update the island's amenities and maintain a viable business and resort community, because this is what attracts the affluent visitors, who in turn become our future real estate buyers.

  • "Longboat Key is a retirement community."

    September 11, 2009

    Plymouth Harbour is an example of a retirement community.

    Longboat is a thriving, diverse, luxurious resort community, offering world-class golf, tennis, boating, and spa amenities to residents and tourists–this community's future residents.

    Longboat Key always has been, and always should be, so much more than a retirement community.

  • The real truth behind the opposition to the Club's redevelopment

    September 11, 2009

    As you may know, a small group of the Club's immediate neighbors continues to be the only source of vocal opposition to the Club's redevelopment and Longboat's economic recovery.

    This group's goal is to maintain the status quo of their luxury lifestyle "behind the gates" and to resist any change.

    Here's the opposition's current strategy in a nutshell:

    • They claim the scale of the Club's redevelopment is out of character with the GPD even though they live in some of the tallest and largest buildings behind the gates.
    • They selectively "cherry pick" numbers from the Club's professional studies to confuse the issues and spread disinformation to the community.
    • They have filed appeals with the Town of Longboat Key that have cost the Town and its taxpayers a substantial amount of resources and lost revenue.

    This small group has clearly demonstrated that it does not represent the best interests of this community:

    • None of these critics has any real expertise in traffic, city planning or managing a resort or private club.
    • They have yet to provide one single, viable alternative to solving the island's current economic crisis.
    • These opponents are mostly residents of multi-million dollar, high-rise condos who are against anything they mistakenly perceive will somehow disrupt the upscale lifestyle and magnificent views they enjoy.

    According to comments posted on the Longboat Observer's web site, the opposition supports redevelopment on the mid and north Key–just not in their own backyard:

    Longboat Observer
    August 19, 2009

    The Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort submitted an application to the Planning, Zoning and Building Department Monday, Aug. 17, requesting an additional 85 tourism units from the newly created pool of 250 tourism units available Key-wide.

    "This is an application that merits strong consideration. It would help to support those businesses at mid to north Key that are in need of more customers. The zoning and code departures will need to be evaluated, but this is the type of expansion that the referendum was intended to encourage."

    -Bob White, Islandside Property Owners Coalition

    It is interesting to note that the opposition is not worried about any additional traffic on the north end of the key.

    The opposition also supports the Club's "massive plan" being built next door to its headquarters in L'Ambiance–just not on the golf course blocking the view out of their kitchen and bathroom windows:

    Longboat Observer
    August 26, 2009

    "I don't believe there would be coalition opposition if the club submitted plans to increase the height of Inn on the Beach buildings."

    - Bob White, Islandside Property Owners Coalition

    Once again folks, traffic and density issues are merely a smoke screen to disguise the opposition's real concern: views!!

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