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Playa Largo scheduled to open in July

Construction crews work on the Playa Largo Resort and Spa at mile marker 97.5 in Key Largo. The hotel is scheduled to open in July. The bayfront property was slated to be a major project during the condo/hotel era that never materialized in the mid 2000s.
Construction crews work on the Playa Largo Resort and Spa at mile marker 97.5 in Key Largo. The hotel is scheduled to open in July. The bayfront property was slated to be a major project during the condo/hotel era that never materialized in the mid 2000s.

One of the last monuments to the Keys' once-buzzed-about-but never-to-be condo/hotel industry is about to take new form.

Construction of the 167-room Playa Largo Resort and Spa at mile marker 97.5 bayside is nearing completion.

Part of Marriot's boutique Autograph Collection, the resort will consist of a main hotel, 10 private bi-level bungalows and a three-bedroom "beach house" with a private pool.

The scheduled opening day for the resort is July 1, said Mark Calibo, marketing and sales director for Playa Largo.

Rates for standard 432-square-foot rooms run between $259 and $599 a night, Calibo said. Bungalows will go for between $899 and $1,299 a night. And if you want to spend the night at the beach house, that will set you back about $4,500, Calibo said.

The 14-acre bayfront property has struggled to find its identity in the oft-changing real estate market over the past decade and a half.

Up until construction on Playa Largo began in early 2014, there was a lone, shuttered sales office for a swank "Hemingway-era Cuba" resort called Playa Cristal. The project was part of a number of condo/hotel resorts planned by a group of Keys investors who formed a company called Cortex Resort Living.

Principals in Cortex included Everett Atwell, who's the head of a group of investors that owns the Peary Court housing complex in Key West. Atwell's White Street Partners bought Peary Court from the U.S. Navy's private housing partner in 2013 for $35 million. The city of Key West planned to buy it from Atwell's firm for $55 million for affordable housing but Key West voters shot down the proposal in a referendum this month.

The property for Playa Cristal was once the American Outdoors RV Park, which Cortex bought for $28 million in 2005. The plan was to demolish the 154 RV hookups and build a condo/hotel -- where investors bought and rented out rooms -- with 92 upscale units. Plans and promotional material boasted restaurants and a lounge.

Cortex was selling units for between $690,000 and $4 million. Owners would be allowed to stay at the resort for up to 28 days at a time. The rest of the year, the units would be rented out. Owners were essentially buying hotel rooms and getting a portion of the rates. Condo/hotels were billed as investments and the future of hotel ownership in the Keys.

"That is going to be the norm up and down the Keys," Deby DiMarco, a Cortex sales representative, said in a July 7 Reporter article about Play Cristal.

But not enough buyers invested, and the condo/hotel age never materialized despite the gobbling up of dozens of prime waterfront locations Keyswide by ambitious developers at exorbitant prices.

In the instance of one condo/hotel developer, Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas, problems with investors turned into a criminal matter. The federal government accused the firm of being nothing more than a $300 million Ponzi scheme. Late last year, a federal jury convicted Cay Clubs founder Fred "Dave" Clark on three counts each of bank fraud and making a false statement to a financial institution and one count of obstructing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by lying to the regulatory agency.

Prosecutors accused Clark, 57, of using the company as his own personal bank account. About 1,400 investors lost money buying Cay Clubs units and resort projects that never got off the ground.

U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez last month sentenced Clark to 40 years in prison and imposed a $303.8 million judgment on him for the bank fraud and $3.3 million for obstructing a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. In addition, he has to forfeit $2.6 million in overseas assets.

Cortex's legal woes remained in civil court. The Playa Cristal property became tangled in a $40 million foreclosure lawsuit in 2009, according to the Miami Herald.

Hollywood, Fla., developer Prime Hospitality Group bought the property for $7.3 million in November 2012.

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