When Nadim Achi first approached the owners of the Surf Club about acquiring the elite Mediterranean-style social club, he got a chilly, “We’re not for sale.”
Undaunted, Achi, who is the founder and managing partner of Fort Capital Management, continued his courtship. Then last spring, as the club leadership warmed to the idea of at least weighing a deal, about a dozen suitors emerged for the prime 1930s-era property at 9011 Collins Avenue in Surfside.
Achi distinguished his small Miami-based private-equity firm from the pack in part by listening carefully to the proprietor members.
With deep ties to the historic club, many of them wanted any future development of the property to preserve the historic elements of the club that was once a winter refuge for Sir Winston Churchill.
That approach, Achi says, dovetailed with his own vision for the property, an 8.7-acre gem with 815 feet of unobstructed oceanfront.
For months, Achi worked closely with the club’s attorney, Robert Zarco, who is among the 122 proprietor members, to win over other members with a $116 million acquisition plan that envisions restoring the facility to its original splendor.
Fort Capital’s plans call for the construction of a 285-unit condominium hotel with five stars, a luxury spa, a restaurant and a gourmet specialty food shop, while preserving and restoring the historic elements of the club. The sprawling Mediterranean-style compound was designed by Miami architect Russell Pancoast and hosted such famous guests as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, General Douglas MacArthur and Elizabeth Taylor.
Achi could speak with some authority about preservation: He and his wife bought and restored a Miami Beach home that had once belonged to Elliott Roosevelt, a son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“Clearly the members have an attachment to this property. The price, I don’t think we talked about until a month or two into it,” said Achi. “It was more about how can I bring back the club — kind of like I did with my house.”
The timing was right: The club’s membership has dwindled in recent years, and the old place has lost some grandeur for lack of investment in maintenance and restoration over the years.
“It needed a shot, a catalyst. That’s what this company is,” said Zarco.
The Surf Club marks the fourth major real estate investment in South Florida for Fort Capital, which was founded in May 2007 and oversees $250 million in investments for various entities. Each project Fort Capital manages is held in a separate limited liability corporation with distinct investors.
About a third of its capital comes from Turkey, a third from Latin America and a third from U.S. investors, notably the Cabot family of Boston.
“Miami is very, very attractive to international visitors and investors,” said Achi, who is the principal owner of the firm. “We’re very bullish on Miami.”
Achi, a 50-year-old naturalized American citizen, was born in West Africa to Lebanese parents and educated in Paris and Washington, D.C. He founded and was CEO of ePlus Technology, a publicly-traded company based in Herndon, Va., before starting Fort Capital.
Fort Capital focuses on prime, often waterfront, real estate, typically in distress or in need of a change. The firm bought most of the Capri South Beach and repositioned the Miami Beach condominium. It acquired The Strand restaurant in South Beach and the nearby Pelican Parking garage, and earlier this year added the Millennium at Bay Harbor condominium to its portfolio.