Hollywood agrees to Margaritaville extension



The developers of Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort got what they say they needed to keep the long-awaited beach-front hotel project alive — more time.

The commission voted Wednesday to give the developers — a joint venture between Margaritaville and The Lojeta Group – until July 5 to take possession of the city-owned land on Johnson Street and begin building the $130 million project.

“I think that this really has to come down to what is the best business decision,” said Mayor Peter Bober, saying pulling the plug now will only hurt the city. “I don’t consider this a lot more time.”

The city has been trying for years to get a project going at the beach location. In 2011, the developers signed an agreement with the city, basing the financing on a foreign investment program. When that didn’t pan out, the commission voted last April to give the developers more time.

Then in September, the commission said it was drawing a line in the sand and setting an April 10 deadline for construction to begin on the 350-room hotel and restaurant complex.

At that time, the commission also agreed to invest $23 million of Community Redevelopment Authority funds in the project, rather than the $10 million originally agreed upon. In return, the city would receive more each year in rent.

On Wednesday, Lon Tabatchnick, the president of the Lojeta Group told the commission he has been working diligently to get the project done, but needs more time to work out a financing deal with Starwood Capital, the group that once financed high-end hotels including St. Regis, W, Westin and Sheratons globally.

“I believe wholeheartedly that we have the ability to accomplish our goals that we have set forward,” Tabatchnick said.

Gavin Middleton, the senior vice president of construction and development for Starwood, was on hand to show the company’s interest in the project. He said the deal is complicated and takes time to work out.

“We feel very confident in the project,” said Middleton. “We believe in it.”

Though the parties have not yet signed a deal, the fact that a representative from Starwood was present was telling, said Vice Mayor Dick Blattner.

“If you think about it, why would they come here if they don’t think it was a worthwhile thing?” he said.

But Commissioner Peter Hernandez, who was one of two commissioners to vote against the extension, said he wasn’t convinced time would help the project.

“We have heard nothing different than we did six months ago,” he said. “There is still nothing in writing.”

The company now has until May 29 to have a signed, commission approved agreement and then until July 5 to complete all of the other necessary paperwork.

Debra Case, president of the Hollywood Beach Business Association, said Margaritaville will be worth the wait.

“It’s exactly what the beach needs,” she said.

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