Developer Seeks to Buy Back Weston, Fla., Resort, Spa

By Douglas Hanks III, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 15--One of the original developers of the Bonaventure Resort & Spa said Monday he plans to buy it back from the Wyndham hotel chain in an effort to revive the Weston getaway.

The 496-room resort opened in the 1980s and hired Dynasty star Linda Evans to tout the destination as a luxury retreat. But like Evans, the Bonaventure saw its star power dim through the years. In November, Wyndham dropped its name from the property after deciding the resort had fallen below the chain's standards, a Wyndham executive said.

Thomas Ireland, an owner until 1989 who has signed a new contract to buy the property, described the complex as needing a full renovation: the rooms will be gutted, the exteriors redone and the 48,000-square-foot spa rebuilt.

His Ireland Properties will finance the project by selling off the Bonaventure's rooms one by one as condominium units, which the owners could rent back to guests. The company plans on hiring Wyndham to run the resort, and the hotel chain will operate the spa under its upscale Golden Door brand, making it the first Golden Door property on the East Coast.

"Wyndham wanted to sell its nonperforming hotels, and this was one of them," Ireland said. "We're going to turn it into a world-class resort and spa."

The deal comes as more high-end hotels are using luxury spas to lure vacationers and business travelers. And Ireland's strategy of selling the rooms as hotel-condo units also marks the westward migration of a financing tactic that's mainly been reserved for South Florida resorts on or near the ocean.

Ireland declined to disclose exactly what his venture will pay for the property, except to say the renovations and land purchase will exceed $76 million. He added the renovation will cost more than $55 million, putting the sales price in the $20 million range.

The renovation will expand the Bonaventure's room supply to 504 units, with some two-bedroom suites being rented as two rooms. The rooms will sell for between $324,000 to $465,000.

Ireland said his plan is to offer a cheaper alternative to hotel-condominiums on the coast, including the new Canyon Ranch resort on the Miami Beach oceanfront, where one-bedroom hotel units start at $450,000. Ireland said the Bonaventure Golden Door spa will offer the cheapest rates (about $160 a night) in the four-property chain.

Ireland, a former mortgage broker, helped finance the development of the original 1,200-acre Bonaventure residential community, which was later annexed into Weston. He and lead developer Herbert Sadkin held back the land to build the Bonaventure resort, which they ran through the 1980s.

After Sadkin died, Ireland said he sold the heavily leveraged property to the partnership's lender, California Federal Bank, for what he said was a small loss in 1989. Three ownership changes followed, including the purchase by Patriot American Hospitality in 1997. Patriot later merged with Wyndham International.

Bonaventure's proximity to the Sawgrass Mills mall draws Latin Americans on U.S. shopping trips and its adjoining golf courses help lure business travelers. Ireland and others familiar with the property said the Bonaventure has seen stretches of healthy profitability -- including this year -- but the resort has been seen as something of a destination lost.

"If you look at the history of the Bonaventure, whatever concept they've used, it hasn't worked very well," said Miami-based hotel broker Guy Trusty.

Wyndham Vice President Joe Champ said the refurbished spa will help attract more leisure travelers, while the renovated rooms will allow Bonaventure to book more large business groups.

"We are still attracting groups, but given the condition" of the property, Champ said, "we have not been able to compete effectively."

Herald business writer Patrick Danner contributed to this report.

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