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Ponte Vedra, Florida Officials Greet Sawgrass Marriott's Extension
to Get Finances in Order with Cheer & Skepticism

By Shakaya Andres, The Florida Times-Union, JacksonvilleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 30, 2010--PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- A judge's recent decision to give Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa six months to get its finances in order came as welcome news, officials said.

The highly visible and central resort is a key economic engine in the Ponte Vedra Beach area and is important because of its ties with The Players Championship, one of the area's largest tourism draws.

"These rulings are another positive step in our reorganization," said Jeff Mayers, general manager of the Sawgrass Marriott. "This continues to validate the ownership's management of the resort."

But St. Johns County Commissioner Phil Mays, who represents Ponte Vedra Beach, said he has limited confidence that the Sawgrass Marriott owners will be able to negotiate with their lenders to work out a successful resolution.

"The owners do not have a workable understanding of how to deal with their lender, which has been exemplified in the last few months," he said. "It's disappointing."

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul M. Glenn of Jacksonville approved a six-month extension last week allotting the Sawgrass Marriott owners more time to file a reorganization plan.

In granting the extension until Dec. 29, Glenn denied mortgagee Goldman Sachs' request to proceed with a foreclosure on the resort hotel, according to court filings.

The judge also approved the owners' request to hire Jones Lang LaSalle to search for investors to raise capital.

Two Irish investment partnerships, RQB Resort LP and RQB Development LP, own the 508-room resort. RQB Resort LP and RQB Development LP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 1.

When they purchased the 65-acre property in July 2006, it was financed for $220.5 million. Based on the value of its collateral, it's now worth $135.3 million, an appraisal ordered by Goldman estimates.

As of Jan. 10, the owners owe Goldman about $192.5 million. A payment hasn't been received since August.

Ginger Peace, Ponte Vedra Beach Chamber of Commerce executive director, was glad to hear the news that the owners have more time to reorganize.

"In the end, no matter what, the Sawgrass golf resort and spa will continue to operate because it has one of the most valuable assets a golf resort can have and that is the tee times the resort controls at the TPC Sawgrass," she said, referring to the popular and high-profile golf course where the TPC is played.

What happens to the resort is important because of its close ties with The Players Championship, the largest tourist income generator in the region, Mays said.

But "it's very unfortunate that the owners have not been able to negotiate some type of successful structure with the lender," he said.

There are no plans to change employee statuses at the resort, officials said. Normal operations will continue with a full staff of employees.

Shakaya Andres can also be reached at (904) 249-4947, ext. 6319.

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To see more of The Florida Times-Union or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jacksonville.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

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