Change comes again to Vero Beach’s Surf Club Hotel

VERO BEACH – The partners who took over the Surf Club Hotel on A1A – formerly the Vero Beach Inn, and long ago the Best Western – have returned the keys, and the property is once again being managed by owners Jon and Mark Bates.

The changes seemed to have come suddenly, and while the owners will be taking over operations in the short-run, there is no indication what the long-range future is for the hotel which underwent a partial facelift earlier this year after being leased by the Vero Beach Trading Company.

Among the possibilities: one option pitched Monday to the owners was a new lease arrangement that would turn the hotel into a gay destination resort.

The Bates did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“As of Monday, Jon and Mark Bates are going to be operating the hotel again,” said hotel events coordinator Patricia Joseph. “The partners from New Jersey just didn’t want to be in Florida any more. The Vero Beach Trading Company was leasing the business from Jon and Mark Bates, and they have decided not to do that and exercised their option to give it back.”

The Bates brothers spent Monday meeting with the hotel staff, most of whom had been hired by the departed operators.

The former operators spent the last year renovating the hotel, making cosmetic improvements – that from the exterior, appeared to consist largely of white paint – to the exterior, and many but not all of the rooms.

One person close to the operation said they had spent $2 million on the project.

The hotel lobby received a more modern facelift, and the operators tried to make a go of two dining areas at the hotel, to no avail.

They had begun hosting small events, but many of those didn’t fill the aging rooms.

Built in the early 1970s, Jon Bates bought the 197,000-square-foot hotel in 1986 for $3.2 million.

The property – which at one point was a Best Western – had become an eyesore, particularly since the 2004 hurricanes when it took substantial damage.

By 2009, the Bates’ had put the property on the market for $11 million.

Over the last few years, the barrier island has seen a rise in upscale hotels with the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, which is run by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, opening in 2007 on Ocean Drive.

Then in 2008, Gloria and Emilio Estefan opened Costa d’Este to much fanfare.

Costa has had some success attracting upscale celebrities and out-of- towners to its chic hotel.

Those venues forced the Surf Club, located on A1A north of Jaycee Park, to seek another niche to fill its rooms.

The original plan for the Surf Club was to take advantage of the hotel’s access to the Atlantic Ocean and offer six-month and year-round beach club memberships.

The hotel also reached out to families of high school and college baseball players taking part in tournaments at Dodgertown.

The Surf Club also tried to gain its financial footing by offering entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, which according to promoter Peter O’Neil, was beginning to gain traction.

Friday nights featured a drag show and Saturday was a comedy night.

O’Neil met with the owners on Monday, but was given no indication whether the owners would continue to let the hotel host those shows.

O’Neil also made a proposal to the owners to run – and if successful, eventually buy at fair market value – the hotel as a gay-friendly destination marketing to couples throughout the United States.

The Bates did not indicate whether they would consider that proposal, he said.

Also up in the air was the Comic Retreat, an event O’Neil’s company had put together to be held at the Surf Club from Jan. 9 – 15.

That event was to attract stand-up comedians, agents and club owners from throughout the United States and Europe.

O’Neil said he was not worried if the owners decided against hosting the event, as he had already heard from other hoteliers who are interested.

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