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.

not forget it was not too far in the distant past when people like Muhammad Ali could fight and train on Miami Beach but could not stay on Miami Beach.”

The boycott, which had tarnished Miami’s reputation and cost the county an estimated $20 million to $50 million in lost convention business and tourist dollars, was the spark that led to Peebles acquiring the hotel, but the fire was provided by the highly motivated CEO. “[Completing the hotel has] really been a great catalyst in creating a lot of energy,” says David Dermer, current mayor of Miami Beach. “The hotel and its neighbor, the Loews Hotel, have spurred on different refurbishments of some older hotels — some newer projects as well. It’s brought in a lot of energy
, a lot of new hipness to the beach.”

Focusing efforts in South Florida makes a lot of sense for a real estate developer. Going into 2004, there was nearly $3 billion in new residential and commercial projects under way in Miami Beach, according to Dermer. “This is probably the largest construction boom we’ve ever seen in this city. We’re doing very well economically.” Peebles plans to remain at the forefront of that boom.

That’s not to say everything Peebles touches turns to gold. Peebles entered a deal to build a convention hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1997. The deal fell apart in July 2001 after Peebles’ partner, Wyndham International, backed out. When the county refused to pay Peebles some $4 million in development expenses, he took the dispute to court. However, a Broward County circuit court judge ruled in 2003 that the county does not have to reimburse the developer. Peebles is appealing the decision.

A PIPELINE OF DEALS
With several projects in the pipeline and deals in the works, it’s easy for Peebles to wax positive, though it was a rocky road to success. “Peebles came into a market that was soft, he had tremendous obstacles, he had an unleveled playing field, and, frankly, most of us would have given up — white or black,” says Ingraham. “But he knew that he had what we call ‘an appointment with destiny’ to build this hotel.”

Peebles, for one, doesn’t believe fate played a part in completing the project. “I believe that I earned the right to build and open that hotel because I wasn’t a quitter, and nobody on my team was a quitter, and we were committed to a higher calling,” he says. “It wasn’t just a business deal, but it was a commitment to break a barrier.” He relies on his negotiating prowess and ability to identify hot properties before the competition and fight the battles that need fighting — on both the political and business fronts.

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