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Key West’s landmark Pier House is for sale

Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa, the iconic Key West hotel that has hosted the likes of Truman Capote, Jimmy Buffett and Norman van Aken during its nearly 45-year history, is up for sale.

The 142-unit luxury resort at the foot of Duval Street is currently owned by an Ohio-based joint venture headed by Richard E. Jacobs Group, a commercial real estate development company which previously owned the Cleveland Indians.

Since opening in 1968, Pier House has become synonymous with Key West’s history.

Built by David Wolkowsky, it was described by writer and Wolkowsky friend Truman Capote as having an air of “elegant inefficiency.”

Today, its historic launch as an upscale hotel is widely considered as the turning point in Key West’s transformation from an old military outpost to a popular tourist retreat.

In his early years, Jimmy Buffett sang at the Pier House’s bar. Treasure hunter Mel Fisher planned his daily dives for gold in the hotel’s Chart Room bar. And future Florida celebrity chef Norman van Aken worked the breakfast service at the Pier House’s restaurant.

Wolkowsky sold the Pier House in 1977 to Clancy Dupepe, from New Orleans. The property later changed hands, and was eventually purchased by the current owners in the late 1980s.

“It’s a unique property, in that the hotel has been built in different stages,” said Pier House General Manager Joy Smatt, who has overseen the resort since 1993. “Each building has its own personality. It’s not a typical highrise where all the rooms are the same, and that has always been the strength of the property.

“If you go into the Main Building or the Garden Building, it’s not the same as in the Spa Building or the Beach Building,” Smatt said. “I like to think of it as the Grand Dame of Key West, anyway.”

In 2008, the Pier House underwent a $10 million-plus renovation, and currently boasts a private beach, pool, three bars, restaurant, spa, fitness area and conference center.

Its owners have hired global investment banking firm Eastdil Secured, based in New York, to market and sell the six-acre property. The company is targeting international hotel and resort chains, investment syndicates and individuals.

The independent, or “unflagged” resort “would allow easy rebranding by an international luxury hotel and resort chain,” said Judson E. Smith, president of the general partner of the owners, Pier House Joint Venture, in a statement.

Eastdil Managing Director Mark Schoenholtz, reached as he was boarding a flight, said the firm is still determining a price for the property, and he could not provide a range.

Pier House, which is officially four separate properties, has a combined assessed value of $21.2 million.

In October, Pier House Joint Venture agreed to buy the land that houses the Pier House’s Caribbean Spa, 22 rooms, conference space and a rooftop deck, from the city of Key West, for $7.5 million. The Pier House had a long-term lease with the city for that land, which was initiated in 1965, and would run until 2020. The cost was $3,600 a year for the prime Key West real estate.

Information from the Keynoter contributed to this report.