|By Mark Basch, The Florida Times-Union,
JacksonvilleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
August 24, 2010 - --A company run by a Texas billionaire that owns the Omni Hotels chain won a bidding war Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to buy the Amelia Island Plantation resort.
TRT Holdings Inc. had the winning bid of $67.1 million, more than $20 million higher than the original bid submitted for the property in May, to buy the resort. The bid is contingent on the Amelia Island Co.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan getting approval at another court hearing on Thursday.
Irving, Texas-based TRT is run by Robert Rowling, who is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 189th richest man in the world with a net worth of $4.4 billion. Rowling originally made his fortune in the oil and gas industry but now invests mainly in hotels, according to Forbes.
Mike Smith, an attorney for TRT, said after the court auction that the company is enthusiastic about acquiring the Plantation. "We look forward to operating the property as an Omni hotel," he said. But Smith said the company is unsure if it will change the name of the resort and would not comment further on TRT's plans.
TRT outbid private equity firm Starwood Capital Group in a court hearing that lasted more than four hours, including several recesses.
Atlanta-based Noble Investment Group submitted an initial bid of $45.9 million in May to acquire the Plantation as part of the Amelia Island Co.'s reorganization, but that bid was subject to higher offers at Monday's auction. Noble, the only other bidder at the auction, declined to bid Monday.
TRT and Starwood both initially bid about $48.5 million and the two sides went back and forth Monday, raising their bids mainly in increments of $100,000 before Starwood decided not to go further.
The $67.1 million won't cover all of the Amelia Island Co.'s debts, but it will allow it to pay off a lot of its creditors.
"This has exceeded our expectations," said Gardner Davis, special counsel for the company.
"Both of the bidders recognized the intrinsic potential of the Plantation and they had the resources to unlock it," he said.
Amelia Island Co. president Jack Healan said it is too soon to say what the new owners might do, but the purchase is good news for everyone.
"They have the resources to expand and enhance the facility and bring it to a new level."
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