‘Proud moment’: Grand Harbor’s beach club renovation caps 3-year, $15M transformation


Three years and three months after taking over ownership of a Grand Harbor Club “that had fallen into disrepair,” members marked a milestone in the club’s remarkable renaissance last Tuesday with the debut of their newly renovated island beach club.

Some 300 people showed up on a bright, breezy seaside day to celebrate completion of the $6-million renovation, which was done in three phases so the facility could remain open throughout the process.

The beach club remodel was part of a larger, $15-million undertaking aimed at returning the club to its former glory. That effort included revamping both of Grand Harbor’s 18-hole golf courses and its 10 Har-Tru tennis courts, along with innumerable other smaller fixes and refurbishments.

After gaining control of the club, members sued the prior owner for “breaches of contract and of fiduciary duty,” according to a statement, alleging that the prior owners basically took the money and ran during and after COVID, “failing to maintain the Club in the manner” contractually required, and not living up “to the obligations to the Club contained in the turnover agreement.”

“The club was really in terrible shape,” Tom Kruger, president of the board of governors, told Vero Beach 32963 last week. Kruger, who ran global technology operations for several Wall Street firms before retiring, began visiting Grand Harbor in the late 1980s and has lived there full-time since 2019.

“I got involved as a board member because I felt an obligation to return the club to what we once knew – and make it better. That is the crux of our board.”

The pandemic was still a dark cloud over the world when members took over governance of the dilapidated club in December 2020, but the new board did not waste time wringing its hands.

“We started hacking away at low hanging fruit immediately,” said club general manager Michael Gibson, who was brought in to lead the comeback effort. “We began with repainting and safety repairs. At the same time, we were working on our masterplan, looking ahead.

“The beach club was in disrepair, but it stood out as a golden jewel, and we made it a priority.”

The first phase of the project included replacing the boardwalk that led to the beach, which Gibson said had become a safety hazard, redoing the cabana deck, repainting the dated, mustard-yellow clubhouse a lighter, brighter white and buying new furniture.

“The second phase was renovating the Shell dining room with new windows, furniture and TVs,” said Gibson. “We wanted to bring a lot of fun into it and make it into a great restaurant with the freshest seafood, the best in Vero. We brought in a new culinary team led by chef Rico Hosena and reworked the menu to make it more like a New England seafood place.”

The second phase also included remodeling and upgrading all of the beach club bathrooms.

“Phase three was a major construction project,” Gibson said. “We tore down a bar that blocked the sea view and a leaky canopy and dining room that was obsolete. It was important to us to really change the quality of the club.”

Before renovation, the back, east-facing wall of the Shell dining room was masonry, with several large windows. Outside, there was a bar area on a lower level and serving station that blocked the ocean view.

Now the east wall of the dining room is folding glass doors that open to a new outdoor bar and expansive new dining terrace on the same level as the restaurant. The bar and two-thirds of the terrace are under a newly built section of roof with a cupola for light and air. Inside and out, there is about 8,000 square feet of dining space, according to club marketing manager Kathryn Redner-Funnell.

“Every seat has a view of the ocean,” said Gibson. “We wanted to create a social center for the club where members can come any time of day and have a drink and grab a bite and get to know each other. I think clubs have a unique opportunity when creating an eating and drinking experience because they know their members so well and can tailor the experience to them. It is almost like family waiting on family. Our pricing is very member-friendly, as well, about 30 percent less than comparable restaurants in Vero.”

The huge, resort-style swimming pool did not need to be renovated and it remains the club’s other focal point, sparkling below a raised terrace on the north side, opposite the dining room and bar, that’s used for sunbathing, yoga and other activities.

Grand Harbor assembled a top-notch team for the project, with gold standard Croom Construction, which built much of Grand Harbor when it was founded, and Peacock and Lewis architects.

Headquartered in Palm Beach, Peacock and Lewis specializes in club architecture. The firm designed The Pointe restaurant and suites for Quail Valley, which opened in 2016, and handled the redesign and renovation of the golf clubhouse at John’s Island in 2017. Both projects won architecture awards. The firm also designed the beach club at The Breakers in Palm Beach and Naples Yacht Club, among scores of other club projects.

Despite pandemic-era labor shortages and problems in the construction supply chain, the beach club “construction process went very smoothly and according to plan,” said Matthew DePino, Grand Harbor’s director of facilities and construction, who Kruger said “managed the project from A to Z.”

“There were a couple minor changes from county as we went along but all in all, we stayed on schedule and on budget,” Depino said.

Membership is up more than 50 percent since the Grand Harbor comeback began, from approximately 600 in late 2020 to 961 last week, according to Gibson. The influx of funds from those new members funded the beach club renovation, according to Kruger. “We didn’t have to take out a loan,” he said.

Members old and new “are so excited when they see what we have done at the beach club,” DePino said. “They walk in, and their faces just light up.”

“I was here the other morning when a member brought some of her family members through, showing them all the new things at the beach club. Everyone was very excited, and it was a proud moment for that member,” said Redner.

“Proud members are the best thing we can have for the future of the club,” said Gibson.

“People who have been coming here for 20 years are shocked at the transformation. It is almost magical to them.”

The beach club was built in 1991 in the Mediterranean-revival style that predominates at Grand Harbor. It sits on 5.18 acres with 400 linear feet of Atlantic Ocean frontage in the midst of the Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, the last remaining large ocean-to-river parcel of native landscape on the barrier island between Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge and the St. Lucie county line.

Gibson said the club is in for permits now to revamp the parking area in front of the beach club to make it more efficient and create “a greater sense of arrival.”

That will complete the beach club renovation, but other projects are in the offing.

“It won’t be very visible, but we will be spending about $2 million upgrading golf course irrigation,” said Kruger, who was named one of the top 20 club presidents in the country in 2023 by Boardroom Magazine. “Longer term, our next big challenge is dining capacity at the main clubhouse. It was built more than 30 years ago, and we are outgrowing it.

“The renaissance of our club is the talk of the town right now. It is a great growth story.”

While many island clubs are full, with long waiting lists, Grand Harbor still has golf and sports memberships available.

“A full golf membership is a $75,000 nonrefundable initiation fee, plus about $20,000 annually in dues and capital,” said Gibson. “Sports memberships are $25,000 initiation and about $10,000 a year.”

Discounted executive memberships for younger members and summer memberships are also available.

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