|By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida
Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Oct. 13, 2006 - Workers at Kerzner International tried to get on with business on Thursday while mourning Howard "Butch" Kerzner, the company's chief executive officer, who died with three others Wednesday in a helicopter accident in the Dominican Republic.
The company is best known for Atlantis, a 2,300-room resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Kerzner's U.S. marketing office is in Plantation. Employees at the office, at 1000 S. Pine Island Road, said the mood was somber on Thursday. None wanted to be identified by name. Company officials declined comment, saying they weren't ready to talk about the tragedy.
Later on Thursday, the Kerzner family issued a statement. It said a memorial fund would be set up to improve playgrounds and school facilities in the Bahamas. No memorial service will be held, honoring Butch Kerzner's wishes, the family said.
"Butch was world class," said James F. Allen, who worked at Kerzner's company for seven years before becoming chief executive officer of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in 2002. "He was a brilliant individual."
While the company has projects in Asia and the Middle East, its core holding has been Atlantis, which is about to kick off a third phase of expansion.
Kerzner, 42, was scheduled to publicize the improvements at a reception next week at the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach.
To run the Bahamas-based company, Kerzner International tapped board member Paul O'Neil, a former CEO of its Paradise Island business. O'Neil, who had retired earlier this year, returns as acting chief executive officer of Kerzner International.
Also on Thursday, the company affirmed it would continue a bid to build Singapore's second casino resort, a contract also sought by two other firms. Kerzner has partnered with CapitaLand Ltd., Southeast Asia's biggest developer, on the Sentosa island project.
Butch Kerzner was born in Durban, South Africa, in 1946. His father, Sol Kerzner, developed South Africa's Sun City resort in 1979, the springboard for Atlantis and other projects. The son received a master's degree in business administration from Stanford University. He joined his father's company as a director in 1992 and was named chief executive in 2004.
"He was a great visionary," casino developer Donald Trump told Bloomberg News on Thursday. "He was one of the few sons who was able to stand up in terms of talent to a great father and you don't see that much in my business," Trump said.
Trump controlled Paradise Island for several years in the 1980s before selling it to entertainer Merv Griffin in 1988. Sol Kerzner bought the resort from Griffin in 1994 for $125 million.
He subsequently poured $200 million into improvements. A phase two brought more hotel rooms, and the company was at work on a $600 million phase three of the Atlantis expansion, including an all-suite hotel, a condo-hotel tower and a dolphin attraction.
Butch Kerzner was also at work on other projects, the biggest of which is The Palm, another giant resort on the ocean in the oil-rich kingdom of Dubai. The company is also developing a string of high-end hotels under the name One & Only Resorts.
Kerzner, who had a residence in the Bahamas, is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and two children, ages 8 and 5, the company said in the statement. Another passenger and two pilots also died in the accident.
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