News Column

On its seventh attempt, County Commission finally unloads the Hickory House for $2 million, taking a $1.1 million loss

June 11, 2014

By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter, (Marathon, Fla.)

June 11--The Monroe County Commission voted Wednesday morning to unload the Hickory House property on Stock Island for $2 million, cutting its losses and ending a real-estate investment failure that has been ongoing since 2006.

The board voted 4-0 to sell the property on Peninsula Avenue. Commissioner David Rice abstained citing a conflict of interest, saying he rents a boat slip on Stock Island owned by developer Pritam Singh. Singh is a principal in in Oceanside Investors, the Hickory House purchasing group.

Oceanside "intends to develop a poolside restaurant and bar with attendant watersports concierge services," says a plan tendered by group attorney Bart Smith. "This use will not only rejuvenate a stagnant property but add to the increasing allure of south Stock Island as a world-class tourist destination."

The county paid $3.1 million for the one-acre site fronting an Atlantic Ocean harbor in 2006, shortly before the housing boom went bust. The property has a dock and formerly housed a restaurant.

A new request for purchase proposals issued in April marked the sixth time in eight years that Monroe County tried to find a buyer for the Hickory House property, one of the biggest local symbols of a government boondoggle.

When the county bought it, plans were to preserve it for working waterfront as developers were buying up waterfront property countywide. The property has been vacant and dormant since the county's purchase.

The last time the county looked at a possible sale was in May 2013. At the time, County Commissioner Danny Kolhage said "I'm hesitant to take a huge loss on this" based on the site's uncertain appraised value in 2016. But Wednesday, he had a change of heart.

Previous offers were dismissed as too low or evaporated amid the real-estate downturn.

No members of the three-vote commission majority who voted to buy the Hickory House site in 2006 remain on the board.

As developers clamored for Keys waterfront land during the real-estate bubble, the three commissioners said purchasing the Hickory House property would guarantee access to the water for local residents.

However, plans to create a waterfront park ran aground amid environmental and traffic concerns. By 2008, the commission was seeking a buyer.

The bid package accepted Wednesday includes a history of Singh's successful resort developments, including the Indigo Reef Resort and Tranquility Bay Resort in Marathon, and Parrot Key Hotel and Resort in Key West, most of which replaced time-worn properties.


(c)2014 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)

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Source: Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, FL)

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