A group of investors, including locals Peter Rosasco and Marvin Rappaport, have proposed a plan to redevelop Florida Keys Country Club, formerly Sombrero Country Club. The certificated club members have unanimously accepted the offer and the real estate deal is in the “due diligence” phase.

Rosasco said the group’s plan was to find the highest and best use for the property.

“The country club is a tremendous asset in Marathon and it can be an economic engine,” he said, “but it needs to be viable.”

The plan calls for the tennis courts to be moved, the clubhouse to be rebuilt and the golf course to be improved in the first phase. Then the construction of approximately 60 suites and 12 villas will commence and a marina and spa component added. The plans also call for a restaurant and pool. Rosasco said the new facility would be the same size as the various structures that exist now.

“It will have the same footprint. There will be no development around the fringes of the property that would impose on the neighbors,” he said. “Furthermore, we don’t want to overwhelm the property.”

The redevelopment deal has been percolating for three years. The club is a client of the Bishop & Rosasco accounting firm and Rosasco said the directors approached him three years ago to develop a better business model. Florida Keys Country Club president Bob Belcaster said it’s a good deal.

“As our membership has aged and moved away, the club is being supported by fewer and fewer members. With this plan, we can be a part of something larger— a boutique hotel and a new membership formula. And they can market it in way that we just can’t,” Belcaster said.

Marathon City Councilman Dick Ramsay said any project that would improve the golf course would be good for Marathon’s economy.

“Look what it did for Key West,” Ramsay said. “A world-class golf course, that’s open to the public, would be important for Marathon.”

Marathon philanthropist Stanley Switlik built the country club. Construction started in 1956 with the 18-hole golf course and the club officially opened in 1960. In 1966, he sold the club to a group of members and residents for $250,000 and it incorporated as a nonprofit headed by lawyer Richard Cunningham Jr.

In the ensuing years, membership has fallen to a low of 49 certificated members from a high of about 200.

Under its new incarnation, the county club will still follow a membership model with a variety of levels of participation. In addition, the public would be welcome at the restaurant and spa, Rosasco said. He added he hopes to form partnerships with other properties in the Keys for shared guest privileges.

In addition to Rosasco and Rappaport, the development principals include Bill Meyer, an hotelier with 20 hotels in the company portfolio including Hilton and Hyatt brands. The other principal is Carl Derry of the Star Resort Group that specializes in luxury vacation clubs. Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a commercial real estate firm, will provide the financing.

Rosasco said the developers plan to start collecting the TRUs, or rights to build the hotel rooms, soon.

“I think it’s important to stress the involvement of locals. We want the public to know that we are sensitive to the needs of the community and that we want what’s best for Marathon,” Rosasco said.

Operations of the Florida Keys Country Club will continue through out the season as normal. Phase 1 construction is set to begin in May of 2014.The principals declined to divulge the sales price, although it’s rumored to be about $4 million.


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