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New resort planned for southern end of island


Developer George Heaton, who built the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa on Ocean Drive, has just submitted plans to St. Lucie County for an ambitious project that includes a 10-story, 160-room hotel, 45 condos, nine cottages and two restaurants on 12 acres at the old Radisson Hotel site at the southern end of our barrier island.

Heaton, who is building the Tarpon Flats subdivision a short distance north of the hotel site, said he has a contract on the hotel property, slated to close in the fall, and that he plans to start construction in spring 2017. He is currently taking deposits from prospective buyers of the condos and cottages.

Heaton is buying the oceanfront land from Las Vegas heavyweight billionaire Phil Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island casino on the Vegas Strip and is pals with Donald Trump.

He said the project, named Orchid Beach Resort, will cost approximately $70 million. He hopes to get site plan approval from St. Lucie County in November.

The hotel’s room rates will average about $200 per night, with a customer demographic mirroring that at Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, Heaton said. He envisions people from South Florida and the Orlando area booking rooms at the new resort in the summer and tourists from the Northeast and the Midwest coming in the winter.

The 45 condos will be 1,000 square feet and priced at $495,000 each, while the nine cottage homes will go for $1.8 million to $2.5 million each.

Heaton is already taking reservation deposits on the condos and cottages, with the earliest buyers getting first pick of the housing.

The resort will include a spa and fitness center as well as a free-standing 5,000-square-foot restaurant and a 4,000-square-foot restaurant in the hotel.  Heaton also plans a 5,000-square-foot specialty retail store that will front on A1A.

He expects construction to take about 15 months after it begins in April or May of 2017. His architect is Delray Beach-based Randall Stofft, who designed Vero Beach Hotel & Spa.

The site design includes a large lawn event area between the beach and the hotel that can be used for weddings, family reunions and corporate events. Plus, there will be about 5,000 square feet of meeting space in the hotel. In total, the project will encompass approximately 170,000 square feet, Heaton said.

He described the resort look as “old Florida architecture” and said he has met with the St. Lucie County commissioners individually about the project.

Leslie Olson, St. Lucie County planning and development services director, said she has not seen Heaton’s plans yet, but she confirmed they were submitted in mid-July.

“Plan packages don’t go out instantaneously,” Olson said. “Once our administrative staff has entered all relevant information into the system, they distribute the packages.”

Olson said the property was recently re-zoned to CR, Commercial Resort, to accommodate the type of project Heaton has in mind.  “My understanding is that Mr. Heaton is proposing a small amendment to the text of the Code to permit a type of cottage unit and ownership not contemplated under the adopted Code,” Olson said.

Generally speaking, “it appeared his vision for the resort was in line with the purpose and intent of the Commercial Resort zoning district.  We look forward to processing the applications and seeing a high quality resort development occur on this excellent beachfront location,” Olson told 32963.

Ruffin and his local agent, Bob Lowell, shepherded the property through the re-zoning process and Ruffin originally planned to develop a resort there himself before deciding to sell the land.

The property sold at the height of the real estate boom for $17.9 million, but lost value in the downturn. Ruffin bought it for $6 million in 2013.

The price in the current sale has not been disclosed.