By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The prospective purchaser of Exuma’s Club Peace & Plenty resort yesterday said it was planning $700,000 worth of upgrades to revitalise the destination and make it “the premier property in Georgetown proper”.
Burton Rodgers, the Bahamian businessman who is part of the acquiring group, said they had received all the necessary Government approvals for the purchase last week.
He added that they now planned to close the acquisition agreement with current Club Peace & Plenty owners, the Benjamin family, within the next 30-60 days.
Mr Rodgers confirmed that there were connections to Exuma’s February Point and Stocking Island developments through the involvement of himself, and Steve Harrington, in the acquiring group.
He emphasised, though, that the Club Peace & Plenty purchase was a separate venture from both these projects, although potential synergies between the different developments will be explored.
Mr Rodgers said this could involve the Club Peace & Plenty being used as a ‘jumping off’ point for visitors and tourists heading to Stocking Island, with the prospective new owners wanting to get “the entire Exuma community involved” with the property’s revival.
Describing the Club Peace & Plenty as “probably the most historic boutique hotel in the Bahamas”, Mr Rodgers told Tribune Business: “Now we have the Government approvals, we’re moving to close the deal right now; within the next 30-60 days.
“The group includes myself and a group of investors in Florida, who own some hotels in Key West and the Greater Miami area.”
Mr Rodgers explained that he specifically sought out hoteliers as partners on the Club Peace & Plenty purchase because he wanted investors who could “do more than write a cheque”.
“These guys have an outstanding record,” he added of his partners. “They have high, year-round occupancies of 70-80 per cent, and their reputation in Key West is impeccable.
“The property [Club Peace & Plenty] needs a lot, a lot of work done to it. That’s what we plan on doing, plus maintaining that rich history that’s been there over the years.”
Mr Rodgers said Club Peace & Plenty’s purchaser planned to keep all the existing staff employed, and would now “start digging into” the upgrades that were required.
Suggesting that the initial $700,000 renovation price tag might increase, he disclosed: “We’re going to redo all the 38 rooms. We’ll redo the amenities, fix up and improve that, and re-establish the Beach Club.
“We want to revive all of our waterfront activities, the pool area and restaurant area.”
Mr Rodgers continued: “The key thing is to bring back that life to Elizabeth Harbour. The Club Peace & Plenty is the key to reviving the whole of Georgetown.
“It’s probably the most historical boutique hotel in the Bahamas. We’re going to treat it with delicate kid gloves. We want the entire community involved with it. Club Peace & Plenty is Exuma.”
Mr Rodgers said his involvement, and that of Mr Harrington’s, would ensure that Club Peace & Plenty’s ownership would retain strong Bahamian and local ties.
He added that this was important to both the Government and wider Exuma community, given the calls for the property to be sold to Bahamians, and would give confidence that the buyers will be fully involved rather than absentee owners.
“We’re thinking how we can create synergies between the Club Peace & Plenty,”Mr Rodgers told Tribune Business, describing his vision for the resort as “the premier property in Georgetown proper to complement the six-star project that David Talton and his team are going to be putting on Stocking Island.
“We want to put something there that complements that and the surrounding community.”
Declining to disclose the purchase price, Mr Rodgers said the group had been able to “negotiate a good deal, a good price” with the Club Peace & Plenty’s current owner, the Benjamin family.
“The Benjamins have been such an asset to the community of Exuma,” he added. “With the Benjamins, I think it was about finding the right buyer, and not necessarily all about the money.
“We have persons who are committed to, and passionate about, Exuma for years. It’s not just a bunch of guys buying property and disappearing, and not being around.
“That was important to the Government, knowing that the group interested in buying it had connections to February Point, had connections to Stocking Island. That was key.”
Club Peace & Plenty has formally been for sale for at least two years, having been placed on the market in February 2015.
The sales price was around $6 million. Tribune Business reported then that the Benjamin family and its patriarch, Stan Benjamin, who acquired Club Peace & Plenty in the early 1970s, had been mulling whether to sell the resort for some time before placing it with a realtor.
The family had already been downsizing and selling its Exuma assets, in what appeared to be an estate planning move. The former Peace & Plenty Beach Inn is now Augusta Bay, while Venezuelan buyers purchased its bonefish lodge that is now known as Turquoise Cay.
The Club Peace & Plenty was opened by Lawrence Lewis, heir to the Henry Flagler railroad fortune, on January 14, 1958. The main building was originally a sponge warehouse and the bar a cookhouse dating back several hundred years to the Loyalist cotton plantation days.
Lewis sold the resort to the trio of Paul Swetland, Armand Angelone and Charlie Pflueger in 1969. That same year, Stan Benjamin, a Cleveland industrialist, first vacationed on Exuma and bought the Club Peace & Plenty several years later.
The resort lists its famous visitors as including Jimmy Buffet; Prince Phillip of England; actors Robert Mitchum, Sam Elliott, Gene Hackman, Johnny Depp; Hume Cronyn and wife Jessica Tandy; Ester Rolle; Al Roker; Jackie Kennedy Onassis; baseball greats Mickey Mantle, Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson; golfers Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Greg Norman and Tom Weiskof; footballer Joe Namath and coach Don Shula.