By Christine Davis
This will be the last Thanksgiving holiday that Dorothy Gay “GiGi” Wright Vela, her siblings, their children and grandchildren will gather for dinner at Wright by the Sea, the beach hotel that has been in her family since 1950.
“My daughter cooks the turkey,” Vela said. “We eat it in the chickee hut that the Seminoles built for us 40 years ago.
“Its roof has been replaced only once and that was after Hurricane Sandy,” she says of the 2012 storm. “All of our children and grandchildren get to be with each other.”
On Oct. 1, Vela and her family sold their oceanfront property, the 29-room Wright by the Sea at 1901 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach, to National Realty Investment Advisors and U.S. Construction Inc. for $25 million. The Wright family corporation is leasing it back through November, then the hotel will close permanently.
“We never put it up for sale. The buyer came to us. When I signed the contract, I felt like someone had socked me in the stomach. I couldn’t take a breath,” said Vela, 83.
Candace Friis, an agent with the Corcoran Group, brought the buyers and handled both sides of the off-market deal.
It was time to sell, Vela acknowledged.
“We were being taxed out of business. The property taxes were a quarter of a million for 29 rooms. And then there’s the 10 percent bed tax, and there are other taxes and we had health insurance to pay for our employees.”
No one connected with the hotel is happy about the sale, Vela added.
“Our family is devastated. Our staff is devastated — they’ve been with us for years. And we have 7,500 guests who come stay with us a year and they will now have no place to go.
“We are directly on the beach. Our property is so lovely, and when I walk through the breezeway, I think it’s just like paradise. But we realized that we couldn’t keep a hotel that’s not making money, and decided we had to sell it.”
On the upside, longevity runs in the family. Vela’s father lived well into his 90s, and Vela, who received a doctorate in psychology and human development in 1996, feels time is on her side. She looks forward to working in her new field.
“My friends say, ‘Now you have time to play bridge with us,’ but I don’t think so. I don’t want to play cards when there’s so much to do that’s exciting.”
And where will the family celebrate Thanksgiving in the future? “That’s to be determined,” Vela said.
Plans for property
National Realty Investment Advisors and U.S. Construction will redevelop the property into a condominium project and beach club on the almost 2-acre beachfront parcel. On the half-acre across the street at 1060 Del Harbor Drive, a parcel that was included in the deal, they plan to build townhomes.
The buyers received a $22 million mortgage from affiliates of New York-based Ares Commercial Real Estate Management.
“It’s going to be totally new construction, a luxurious offering of 19 units on the ocean, envisioned to feel like you are living in your own private beachfront residence,” said Stephann Cotton, president of the Stuart-based marketing and advertising firm representing the owners. “Today’s sophisticated buyers will appreciate the rare opportunity of buying direct oceanfront in one of America’s most sought-after towns. It’s the best design, the finest quality and oceanfront location to come to market in decades.”
Delray Beach architect Randall Stofft has already put together some designs, which will, in time, be released along with timetables on a registrants website, oceandelray.com.
National Realty Investment Advisors is a New Jersey-based development and investment firm with a focus on construction and renovation of townhomes, condos and multifamily projects in the Northeast. It has developed about 715 units since 2010 and has $335 million worth of projects in progress.
Local projects include the purchase of a $7 million waterfront development at 1248 and 1240 Seaspray Ave. in Delray Beach, and the $13 million purchase of two vacant waterfront lots at 2929 and 3565 N. Ocean Blvd. in Gulf Stream.
In June, the firm secured a $16.5 million loan to build a 14-townhome project, Gulfstream Views, on 2 acres at 30 Briny Breezes Blvd. in the County Pocket.
U.S. Construction Inc. of Philadelphia has developed and constructed more than 1,500 luxury homes and units among 50 complexes over the past 10 years. Its website notes the following Delray Beach projects underway: residences at 316 N. Ocean Blvd., 322 N. Ocean Blvd., 707 N. Ocean Blvd., 2929 N. Ocean Blvd. and 3565 N. Ocean Blvd.; four residences at 142 NE Seventh Ave.; a residence at 1239 Laing St.; and two townhomes at 837 Denery Lane.
Stephann Cotton’s Cotton & Company will take the marketing lead on this project. IMI Living will manage sales.