|By Dusty Ricketts, Northwest Florida
Daily News, Fort Walton BeachMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 10, 2010--SANDESTIN -- The rumors finally have become truth.
Nearly a year after negotiations were first reported, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort owner Intrawest announced Tuesday that Destin developer Tom Becnel and his family have finalized an agreement to buy the resort.
The sale is expected to close in early March. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
"It's hard to beat a local owner who knows the property well, is on the property, already has existing relationships with so many important people in the community," said John Russell, senior vice president of operations at Sandestin. "That's a real plus for us. We're all very, very happy that this deal has been reached at this point.
"To us, it's just a great day in Sandestin," Russell said.
The purchase agreement also includes the management contracts for Cottage Rental Agency, a community of beach homes at Seaside, and The Marriott Residence Inn and The Marriott Courtyard, both at Sandestin.
The sale will not affect the Hilton Sandestin, which is a separate business from the resort.
Rumors that the sale has been finalized have surfaced off and on for months.
"It's a very large property. It's a very complex property, so it took quite a while for the process to work its way through," Russell said. "When you think about what the purchase involves, its four golf courses, its three membership entities and a large number contracts, and then all the buildings that we own and operate, the convention centers and Fins restaurant. It was a complicated transaction. It just took a long time.
"That was the kind of thoroughness I wanted to see if we were going to get a new owner," he added. "For me, it's reassuring that he's going to take a methodical approach to the purchase rather than rush in and buy it and say, 'What did I get?' "
The sale of Sandestin comes at a good time for Intrawest, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. A foreclosure notice was filed against the company last month after it missed a payment on a $1.4 billion loan. An auction to sell off Intrawest's assets that is scheduled for later this month had caused concern among some of the owners at Sandestin.
"There's been a lot of anxiety among the owners because we didn't know if it was actually going to happen," said David Stowe, president of the Sandestin Owner's Association. "Most of us don't know the Becnel family. They've been in the area a long time. I think there's just been a lot of anxiety about the uncertainty of what's going to happen to the resort. And that's been the main discussion in the community. I think everybody's going to feel good now that the deal's going to go through for sure, and we'll have a good, stable owner and be able to work on our issues."
Most of Sandestin's employees will keep their jobs after Becnel takes over. Russell said some employees who worked in Intrawest's commercial sales unit will stay with Intrawest.
Russell said he expects most people will not notice a difference in the resort's day-to-day operations.
"If you look at what (Becnel's) done here, from One Beach Club Drive to Silver Shells, those are very high-quality developments," Russell said. "It's a very successful family. The one thing I do know is he is buying it to hold it. He's not buying it to cut it into little pieces and sell it off or to flip it in a couple years. This is a long-term investment by the family."
Intrawest bought Sandestin in July 1998 from Malaysia-based Sime Darby Berhad for $130 million.
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