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'Tremendous opportunity'

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  • | 11:00 a.m. November 27, 2015
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Manfred Welfonder and his MW Corp. have been pitching a redevelopment plan for the long-shuttered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort for the better part of a decade.

But thanks to a recently unveiled agreement with the Lutgert Cos., one of Naples' premier real estate firms, MW Corp.'s proposed $200 million revamp of the 18-acre Longboat Key resort is gaining new traction and credibility.

In addition to building some of Naples best-known luxury high-rise residential towers in the 760-acre Park Shore beachfront community and elsewhere — including Enclave and Aria, two of 25 projects containing more than 2,500 upscale units — Lutgert has a long track record of commercial success.

Earlier this year, the firm sold the Mercato retail and office complex in Naples, a joint venture with the Barron Collier Cos., to Prudential Real Estate Investors for roughly $240 million.

Lutgert is more than an experienced developer, however. It also owns the Premier Sotheby's International Realty residential real estate brokerage and a commercial counterpart, a well-established insurance operation, construction arm and a title company.

“We have considerable expertise in luxury development, and we like to build on the waterfront,” says Howard Gutman, Lutgert's president. “And the Colony represents a tremendous, excellent site. We realize a lot of issues would need to be cleaned up there, but we'd welcome the opportunity to be part of the development there.”

MW Corp.'s proposal calls for 350 new, four-star rental and residential units at the Colony, with a 190-seat restaurant and amenities ranging from tennis courts to swimming pools.

In three years, it hopes to re-open the famed resort, which closed in 2010 following a legal dispute between the Colony's homeowners' association and its developer and manager.

“We see the tremendous potential and opportunity there,” says Judy Green, president and CEO of Premier Sotheby's, adding the company has been working with MW Corp. for “a few years.”

While Lutgert and Premier have become well known to MW Corp., the companies are less familiar to many Colony stakeholders — including the homeowners' association that represents the dozens of unit owners there.

“We did not know who they were until Manfred brought them to our attention,” Jay Yablon, president of the Colony's homeowners' association, says of Lutgert. “But we hope to get a much better sense of who they are by the time of our annual meeting on December 15th.”

But even with its cache and sterling reputation, Lutgert's involvement at the Colony does not ensure that MW Corp.'s plan will clear the significant hurdles it faces.

Chief among them are ongoing lawsuits over ownership and financial responsibility.

And then there's Unicorp National Developments Inc., an Orlando-based company that owns a substantial portion of the Colony property -- including its now-dormant amenities.
Unicorp also maintains control of a master lease that essentially gives it rights to the 18-acre property.

It, too, has redevelopment plans in mind for the Colony.

“The Colony can't be redeveloped without us,” Unicorp President Chuck Whittall says. “We're the ticket to the future there. Others are really just spinning their wheels.”

Like Yablon, Whittall says he had never heard of Lutgert before.

Gutman, too, acknowledges that his company is not positioning itself for a prolonged legal battle over the Colony.

“We realize there remain a lot of issues that need to be cleared up,” he says. “If Manfred can bring us a site that is lien-free, and development-ready, then we're interested and would like to go forward. But we're not getting involved in any of the lawsuits or anything else at the Colony. We're developers.”

Lutgert luxury
Naples-based The Lutgert Cos. has ample experience developing high-end properties. Below is a sampling of its projects.

Estuary at Grey Oaks
This 350-acre, gated golf course community in Naples contains 179 single-family home sites — with homes from 3,883 square feet to more than 7,500 square feet — and features three golf courses, a pair of clubhouses and other amenities. Priced from $2.3 million.

The Residences at Mercato
This residential community contains 52 single-family homes and villas, measuring 2,830 square feet to 6,225 square feet. Priced from $1.32 million.

This mixed-use development contains 440,000 square feet of high-end retail shops and Class A office space. Built in 2008, the complex was sold earlier this year to Prudential Real Estate Investors for $240 million.

This 25-story luxury condominium tower, completed in 2006 in Bonita Bay, features 69 residences and eight carriage homes. The project is near the upscale Bay Island Golf Course and the Estero Bay Park, and residences initially sold for more than $1 million.


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