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Declining Membership at Sombrero Country Club Has the Marathon, Florida
 Club's Board Considering a Massive Redevelopment to a Destination Resort

By Ryan McCarthy, Florida Keys Keynoter, MarathonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

October 16, 2010 - -Drastically declining membership at Sombrero Country Club has the Marathon club's board considering a massive redevelopment to keep it afloat.

On Oct. 5, the board sent out an e-mail to full-time members saying it's agreed in principle to a partnership with Keys Eighteen LLC, a development group headed up by Miami-based developer Roger Masters. Keys Eighteen isn't listed on the state Division of Corporations Web site, but Masters' Asset Purchase Group is.

The plans are major, calling for "a four-star or better hotel, condominiums, restaurant, marina and tennis. The 18-hole course will be redesigned by Jim Fazio, a world-renowned golf architect, then rebuilt into a Class A course with a new comprehensive drainage plan."

Sombrero board member Robert Belcaster said it's apparent a private-club business model isn't viable in Marathon any longer.

"Our membership [has faded] and we've been dropping down to a level that can't sustain itself. There's a certain point you say it's not a viable option. We want to try to reach out much more to the community and open up play much more. To do that, we need people to take a hard look at how the golf course works," he said.

According to Belcaster, the club is down to 69 full-time members. He said there were as many as 275 in the 1970s and 209 when he joined seven years ago.

Masters said his agreement with Sombrero is tentative and that he has yet to pitch plans to city officials. He was hesitant to discuss the project in too much detail.

"As far as the plans over there, we are going to redo the golf course in terms of a world-class golf course with the proposed hotel/condo resort destination that would hopefully drive and revitalize people from all over the country and world to [go to Marathon] play golf," Masters said.

But there's a big roadblock.

Marathon city code states a hotel at the course is not an allowed use. The club is allowed one market-rate housing unit (likely condominiums) per four acres. Planning Director George Garrett estimated the club to be 120 acres, which equates to 30 units.

Masters says he's aware of the limitations but that due diligence he's done suggests a hotel could be built there. He declined to elaborate.

"This is part of our development plan -- we need to verify all this -- we believe you could put a hotel-type property there," Masters said. "That is part of my initial plan, to create a whole package to take to the city and community and get that blessing. If that is not a possibility, [it] would have to be rethought and the development going forward."

Belcaster denied rumors that Sombrero had approached Key West Golf Club officials about managing the club and that it was for sale -- for a price.

"It was really never for sale. We said we would entertain any discussion. Our real choice was the deal we have structured, a partnership that would really work on economic development issues," he said. Masters said he plans to prepare a packet, including renderings and detailed development plans, "before the end of the year to both the city and community."

City Finance Director Peter Rosasco's name is on a list provided by the club of people involved with Masters' development group. Rosasco told the Keynoter his involvement is as a certified public accountant only.

"I have been working with a group that has been talking to some folks over there. They felt like they wanted a local accounting firm involved," he said. Rosasco owns Keys accounting firm Bishop Rosasco & Co.

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To see more of the Keynoter, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.keysnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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