June 1, 2004
The Prince Of South Beach
R. Donahue Peebles sits at the head of a conference table in a makeshift conference room. Just outside, it’s a cloudless spring day in Miami Beach, Florida, where golden sands meet the turquoise waters of the Atlantic under a sapphire sky. With temperatures already nearing 80 degrees before noon, it is perfect beach weather — a glorious day. But the CEO of Peebles Atlantic Development Corp. isn’t concerned about the weather. He’s focusing on business.
Peebles and his sales team are busy hammering out the sales and marketing strategy for the company’s Bath Club project. When the facility opened in 1926 as a private social club, African Americans weren’t even allowed on the premises. Nearly eight decades later, an African American is not only a member — he’s the owner. And while Peebles is keeping the club running, the entrepreneur’s adding a 20-story luxury high-rise with 112 units that will fetch almost $2 million each, on average. The project will cost some $155 million but is expected to net Peebles Atlantic Development as much as $225 million in gross sales and $80 million in profits.
Construction is under way everywhere on the property, which rests on Miami Beach’s swank Millionaire’s Row, where palm trees, manicured lawns, and multicolored million-dollar mansions are the norm. The task at hand is selling some of the remaining dozen or so units for the high-rise; Peebles wants most of the units sold before the property opens in December. Also included on the 5.3-acre property are six seaside villas — each sold for a hefty $5 million to $7 million.
Creating a pipeline for deals; securing financing; and buying, developing, and selling properties are all in a day’s work for Peebles. His company (No. 42 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/ SERVICE 100 list with $82 million in sales), has amassed a $500 million real estate portfolio. Without a college degree, this son of a single parent built a real estate empire with tremendous fortitude, business and political savvy, and a healthy dose of kismet. In addition to The Bath Club, Peebles’ firm owns a Marriott hotel in his hometown of Washington, D.C., along with several commercial properties there, and has a $350 million project in predevelopment on Singer Island in Palm Beach County, Florida, that includes retail space, a hotel, and condominiums. And he also happens to own the 417-unit Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort in Miami Beach — perhaps the first black-owned luxury resort in the U.S. In developing that property, Peebles took on competing developers, adversarial politicians, and local naysayers and mended a rift between a city and its black population.
But Peebles isn’t satisfied with that. He’s putting $15 million into renovating 160 units of the Royal Palm to put on the market for fractional ownership. In the time-sharing plan, the owner will have access to the suite and its amenities for one week per month for roughly $300,000 to $350,000. “We’re going to redo the furniture fixtures, redo the corridors,” explains the CEO, adding that he doesn’t expect the conversion