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Death of Sagamore Hotel owner Marty Taplin follows financial woes

Martin “Marty” Taplin, co-owner of the Sagamore Hotel, died Tuesday at age 77.
Martin “Marty” Taplin, co-owner of the Sagamore Hotel, died Tuesday at age 77. Miami Herald

Marty Taplin fell to his death Tuesday, leaving behind the legacy and financial woes of the famed South Beach hotel The Sagamore.

Taplin, 77, co-owner of the Collins Avenue hotel with his wife Cricket, fell from the balcony of his stepmother’s 25th-story Bal Harbour Towers apartment, according to Bal Harbour police chief Mark Overton. The incident is still under investigation, he said.

But “because of the fact that he was standing on the balcony by himself and he was having personal problems,” Overton said, “it’s probably suicide.”

Because of the fact that he was standing on the balcony by himself and he was having personal problems it’s probably suicide.

Bal Harbour police chief Mark Overton on the death of Martin Taplin.

Taplin’s daughter Jennifer and her husband Neil Sazant declined to name the cause of his death in a telephone interview with the Miami Herald on Wednesday. For an obituary, Jennifer Sazant said her father, a graduate of Miami Beach Senior High, “was a maverick and thought outside the box. … He loved his grandchildren. He founded the Sagamore in 1997. We had a foundation through my grandfather, The Sol Taplin Charitable Foundation, and he was very charitable with everyone and passed that on to his family.”

Under the Taplins’ stewardship, and drawing upon their personal collection of more than 600 pieces, the 93-room Sagamore, built in 1948, earned its nicknamed “The Art Hotel” and became an Art Basel Miami Beach destination. In the process, they spurred a global trend in art-oriented boutique hotels.

The Taplins’ invitation-only Saturday morning Basel brunches, for instance, gathered top artists and museum and gallery representatives.

However, The Sagamore, located at 1671 Collins Ave., has been under threat of foreclosure for years by LNR, the commercial lender that serviced the loan. LNR did not return a call Friday for comment.

The hotel’s struggles began after its popular restaurant, Social, left in 2008. One idea Taplin floated in 2009: bringing a Playboy Club onto the property to boost its finances. He saw the venture as a win-win for the struggling Playboy brand, and for the Sagamore, caught in the throes of the recession. Part of the deal said the Taplins’ art would remain on site.

Playboy and Hugh Hefner’s Bunnies didn’t come. In 2012, a misstep by LNR’s legal team — a missing “notice of default” — gave Taplin a breather, allowing him to keep the $32 million loan current. But the debt didn’t vanish, and it eventually became clear that Taplin would have to sell his beloved hotel.

After months of negotiations with potential buyers, Taplin’s son-in-law Neil Sazant signed a contract to sell the hotel to an undisclosed buyer, according to published accounts and sources familiar with the transaction. The sale came just before an April deadline for the $31.5 million balloon payment and $14 million in interest.

Services were held Friday at Blasberg Rubin Zilbert funeral home in Miami Beach.

Follow Debora Lima on Twitter @dtdlima and Howard Cohen @HowardCohen

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