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98 percent of Grand Harbor members vote to take over ownership of club from Carl Icahn

Grand Harbor members have voted overwhelmingly to assume ownership and control of the community’s Golf & Beach Club, ending a yearlong saga that produced sometimes-contentious negotiations, threats of legal action and a shuttered clubhouse and golf course.

Although the 10-day voting period officially ended at midnight Monday, more than enough members had voted in favor of the takeover by Monday morning to make the result clear, approving an agreement reached last month with Icahn Enterprises, which owned and operated the club for 16 years.

According to Grand Harbor’s new, member-run Board of Governors, 98.8 percent of the club’s members who had cast ballots by Monday morning voted for the proposal. The ballots were weighted based on membership level, such as full golf, tennis and social.

The new board was constituted when the members association and Icahn reached an agreement-in-principle earlier this month – the agreement members have now approved.

“It’s done,” board member Doug Sweeny said Monday. “We’re already well past the number of votes needed to pass. We’re ready to roll.”

The new five-member board has already reopened Grand Harbor’s two golf courses, tennis complex and clubhouse pool, and Michael Gibson was hired last week to replace Icahn’s Chris Hull as the club’s general manager.

Gibson previously worked as the general manager at the Old Marsh Club in Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Grove Golf & Tennis Club in Boca Raton prior to holding the same position at The Golf Club at Turner Hill in Ipswich, Mass.

Sweeny said Gibson has decades of club-management experience and brings to Grand Harbor a strong background in club turnarounds – a quality that should prove valuable after the tumult of the past year, when more than 160 members resigned.

In its public announcement of the vote results Monday, the board said “many of the recently resigned members have asked to rejoin the nearly 600 members who belong to the club,” and that many Grand Harbor staffers have begun returning to their jobs as Gibson oversees a staged reopening of facilities.

Sweeny said Gibson plans to reopen the Beach Club and offer dining service there soon. He wasn’t sure when clubhouse dining would resume.

After reaching an agreement with billionaire businessman Carl Icahn’s negotiators last month, the board discovered through financial disclosures that the club had $4.3 million in reserve accounts to fund its operations.

In addition, Sweeny said many of the members who had held off paying their annual dues to Icahn Enterprises during the negotiations have begun paying them.

“We’ll have plenty of money to operate the club,” Sweeny said. “Everyone’s optimistic, excited and feeling good again.”

On Nov. 21, in fact, as word spread through the Grand Harbor community that an agreement had been reached with Icahn Enterprises, more than 200 masked and socially distanced members gathered in the clubhouse parking lot for a spontaneous tailgate party.

Despite a late-afternoon drizzle, the members celebrated by toasting to the club’s future. Then, just as members of the negotiating team began making impromptu speeches, the rain stopped, and a rainbow appeared overhead.

The crowd cheered what board members called a “harbinger of good times to come.”

Such feelings were difficult to imagine early last month, after 85 percent of the club’s members voted against Icahn’s initial proposal, which was not supported by the Grand Harbor Member Association’s board.

The member association had been trying to negotiate the transfer of the club to its members for more than a year, but the talks became heated at times and stalled on several occasions.

Even after the members soundly rejected the developer’s first proposal, Icahn did nothing to financially sweeten his take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum.

The accepted proposal, though, eliminates a series of restrictions – including those regarding the use of the golf courses and recreational areas – imposed on members in the initial “Agreement to Sell,” drawn up when the club was founded in 1988 and transferred to Icahn Enterprises when it acquired the property in 2004.

Also, the membership no longer is prevented from filing legal claims against Icahn; the club may continue to use the Grand Harbor name and logo; and it now owns all of the club land.

Sweeny called the proposal the “best deal” the membership was going to get from Icahn Enterprises, which had threatened to declare the subsidiary operating the club “insolvent” and seek Chapter 7 protection in bankruptcy court, where the club’s assets could have been purchased by a third party.

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