The Prince Of South Beach

R. Donahue Peebles has built a real estate empire with the posh Royal Palm Hotel and a pipeline of deals in South Florida. And he's not finished yet.

deal stalled after four local African American would-be developers, known as the HCF Group, won the original bid but failed to secure additional financing for the estimated $60 million project. “Ultimately, in spite of H.T. Smith and other community leaders [urging] the city commission to reach a deal with HFC, the city commission terminated negotiations,” recalls Peebles.

A MARRIAGE OF BUSINESS AND POLITICS
Though an outsider to the dynamics of politics and business in Miami Beach, Peebles understood the importance of utilizing the former to benefit the latter. Exposed to real estate at an early age by his mother, a real estate agent who later launched a brokerage firm, Peebles was a page on Capitol Hill for former Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) while in high school during the late ’70s. After a brief stint in the premed program at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, he decided he wanted to go into business for himself. Peebles returned to Washington and worked as a real estate sales agent and appraiser.

In the early ’80s, Peebles was also a fundraiser and supporter of then-Mayor Marion Barry’s reelection campaign and was named to the city’s property tax appeals board, becoming its chairman at the age of 24. During that time, Peebles became a player in terms of political fundraising and then started a real estate appraisal business. But he really wanted to be a developer and own buildings. He got his opportunity in 1986, when the then-26-year-old entrepreneur closed on his first property, a vacant development site on which he built a 100,000-square-foot office building, with a project budget of $9 million. By 1989, he’d left the city’s tax appeals board to focus on his private enterprise.

So, when the Royal Palm deal came along, Peebles was familiar with both the real estate business and the politics of public/
private partnerships. Even more important, he gained control of the Shorecrest hotel, which would become a pivotal part of sealing the deal. When the city of Miami Beach issued its request for proposal for the Royal Palm, it was conditional on the development of the adjacent Shorecrest property. However, the city had earmarked $10 million to acquire both properties and used $5.5 million of those funds to acquire the Royal Palm, leaving insufficient funds in the budget to meet the $5.5 million asking price for the Shorecrest. Peebles’ acquisition of Shorecrest turned out to be highly strategic, because any competing bids for acquiring and developing the Royal Palm had to include that property.

THE CAMPAIGN TO CAPTURE SOUTH BEACH
The city received seven bids, mainly from major hotel chains that had partnered with African Americans to meet the 51% black ownership requirement. Each bidder was connected to a different hotel chain, including The Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt, Regent International Hotels, and Doubletree. Peebles partnered with Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, part of InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, a U.K.-based corporation that owns, manages, leases, or franchises more than 3,500 hotels. Peebles hammered out a contract in which Crowne

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