The Sale of Fire Island's Gay Paradise Is Finally Complete
Today the deal to purchase a large chunk of the commercial property in New York's gay summer enclave was finalized. The new owners, a real-estate development triumvirate, say they won't change a thing, at least for now.
The new owners, FIP Ventures—which is made up of real estate investor Seth Weissman (above, center), former journalist turned B&B owner Andrew Kirtzman (right), and straight real estate mogul Matthew Blesso—say in a press release that they aren't going to change any of the traditions of the Fire Island social schedule, including the all-evening drinking revelries called low tea, middle tea, and high tea. They also promise to not raise prices at any of the establishments they purchased, which include the Pavilion nightclub complex, the Blue Whale and Bay Bar restaurants, the Hotel Ciel (better known as the Botel), a grocery store, gym and clothing store, as well as numerous retail spaces and two residential properties near the dock.
They say that they're going to improve the Pavilion, rebuild a pool deck next to Hotel Ciel for parties and the like, and, starting this fall, completely renovate the cinder block hotel which has been in quite a sorry state.
The scuttlebutt around town, confirmed first by a New York Times article about the sale and now FIP's press release, is that Hamptons eatery Almond will come in to take over the restaurants. The final sale price was $17 million, lower than both the $18 million we originally posted and the $20 million the Times cited. It is still the largest deal in Fire Island history.
Of course abdicating king Eric von Kuersteiner issued his own press release wishing the new owners luck and saying that he will continue to operate his freight and construction companies on the island as well as promote the annual charity dance parties Ascension and Bay Dance. Von Kuersteiner says the purchase price is almost quadruple what he paid for the property six years ago just before original Fire Island developer John Whyte passed away.
By now most of the residents and renters have their summer plans all made, so everyone will be out there this season, but it will be an important one for the new company to show everyone just what they plan on doing in gay paradise.
The full press release is below.
In the largest transaction in Fire Island history, investment group FIP Ventures announced the official purchase, for $17 million, of the vast majority of commercial property and establishments in Fire Island Pines, the internationally famous gay community.
The assets purchased include the famed Pavilion nightclub complex, the Blue Whale and Bay Bar restaurants, the Hotel Ciel, a grocery store, gym and clothing store, as well as numerous retail spaces and residential properties.
The FIP Ventures team consists of Matthew Blesso, 36, president of Blesso Properties, an investor and developer of innovative high-end real estate in New York and abroad; Andrew Kirtzman, 48, one of New York's best-known journalists and owner of The Madison Fire Island Pines, a high-end bed and breakfast, and Seth Weissman, 26, a Pines summer renter and a managing partner of Weissman Equities, a Manhattan-based real estate investment firm.
Fire Island Pines may be the best-known, most beloved gay community in the world. Each summer, thousands travel to the pristine beach community almost as a ritual while young gay renters and visitors flock to its famed dance clubs. Many homeowners are trend-setters and leaders in the media, finance, entertainment and fashion worlds.
Weissman, Blesso and Kirtzman have been busy preparing for the 2010 summer season. For the past several months, the three have been collecting input from a range of Pines community members, holding dinners with homeowners and renters to understand how to best improve and serve the community. The new owners have also met with the leaders of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association (FIPPOA).
"The Pines is a small town with a cosmopolitan feel," said Kirtzman, who has spent nearly every summer of his life on Fire Island. "It has its own traditions and its own culture. There's an expectation that you can walk barefoot into stores and restaurants and yet experience a professional level of service and quality. That's going to be our expectation as well."
The transaction was an off-market purchase; the properties were not for sale until the team approached the previous owners.
"This no-bid deal provided a rare opportunity to acquire a highly profitable set of properties at a below-market price," said Weissman. "We weren't surprised when appraisers valued the properties significantly higher than our purchase price."
Weissman, Blesso and Kirtzman plan to leave major Pines institutions untouched (such as Low, Middle and High Tea) and refrain from raising prices at their bars and clubs. They also plan to restore some beloved community traditions that have fallen by the wayside in recent years: They are restoring the grand hotel pool deck on which the properties' legendary owner John Whyte once hosted famous entertainers and fashion shows; they plan to make physical and technical improvements to the Pavilion, perhaps the best-known gay dance club in the world. And they plan to dramatically raise the quality and service of the Blue Whale Restaurant, which for years was known as Fire Island's finest restaurant.
The new owners have brought in the owners of Almond restaurants in the New York Flatiron district and Bridgehampton, two acclaimed establishments with considerable gay followings. The owners, Jason Weiner and Eric Lemonides, run their Manhattan location in collaboration with restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow.
The three owners are also designing a complete renovation of the hotel this fall, with the re-opening set for May, 2011. "The Hotel Ciel is the most visible property when people arrive in the community on the ferry," stated Blesso. "Our aim is to transform it with a spectacular new design, so it serves as a welcoming beacon to residents and visitors."
Blesso will spearhead the renovation, assisted by award-winning architect Andrea Steele. Blesso and Steele have collaborated on seven projects in the past.
"The improvements we plan are geared towards all parts of the community," said Blesso. "There are very affluent people in the Pines, but there are also a lot of young gays who come here without a fortune to spend. That mix is a big part of the unique character of the Pines, and we intend to encourage it."
The new owners bring to the project a track record of successful investments, an award-winning design sensibility and a deep history in and knowledge of the Pines.
Blesso, a creative and socially-conscious developer, has garnered numerous design awards, including an American Institute of Architects New York State Award of Excellence in 2009.
Weissman was named one of Real Estate New York's "Thirty Under Thirty" people to watch in 2008 and is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and real estate investor at Perry Capital, a hedge fund. He is also on the Victory Campaign Board of the Victory Fund.
Kirtzman, the former host of "Kirtzman and Co." on WCBS-TV and "Inside City Hall" on New York 1 News, is a former reporter for the New York Daily News and is the author of two books, Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City" and "Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff, a New York Times best-seller. He has spent almost every summer of his life in Fire Island, and in fact got his start in journalism as co-founder of The Fire Island Villager, which he began publishing with a friend at the age of seventeen. In 2007, he opened The Madison Fire Island Pines.
The group plans to open its properties for the season in May.