John Tolbert is leaving as president and general manager of the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
In three weeks, Tolbert will become senior vice president for BRE Hotels & Resorts. It’s a subsidiary of the investment company Blackstone, which sold the resort to MSD Partners a year ago. MSD is owned by Michael Dell, who founded the eponymous computer company.
Blackstone brought Tolbert back for the top job at the resort—he became president in December 2015—so he had a connection to the company. He was “heavily involved in the sales process” to MSD. As Tolbert told me Wednesday, though, the move comes with regret.
MSD, Tolbert said, is working on plans that will make the Boca Raton property “the most exciting resort in North America.” He would have liked to see the results over the next couple of years.
Tolbert spoke of the resort’s “potential,” which sounds odd, given its iconic status in the area. He noted, however, that the Great Hall dates to 1969. The ballroom needs to be “gala-driven.” MSD is “reimagining” the resort’s restaurants.
“They are looking at the totality,” Tolbert said, “not just the pieces.” There are 356 acres. There’s an 800-foot stretch of oceanfront. In the next few years, Tolbert said, high-end guests especially will want places that offer “sanctuary.”
Which, of course, brings us to COVID-19 and how it has gobsmacked the hospitality industry. The resort has reopened the beach and yacht clubs and extended-stay bungalows and all amenities. The tower and cloister will remain closed, Tolbert said, for some time—perhaps until development of a widely accessible vaccine and/or treatment.
Though Hilton, the property manager, did lay off some of the 1,800 employees—Tolbert won’t say how many—the resort benefited from its membership base. Locals couldn’t travel, but in the resort they had what Tolbert called their “social hub.” That base is “uber-local.” The resort continued to offer golf, tennis and curbside restaurant service before phased-in reopenings began.
Tolbert said many virus-related changes will become standard even after the pandemic. The resort has wellness stations throughout. Guests can make appointments for the beach and pool. “People now will expect it.”
Though BRE’s roughly 150 properties include nearly two dozen in Florida, Tolbert’s region will be Hawaii, Arizona and California. After leaving the resort, Tolbert will go to Hawaii for three or four months, though he will “assist” with the transition to a new president of the resort.
With Tolbert’s departure, Boca Raton will lose one of the city’s great corporate/civic personalities. Among many other things, Tolbert helped with relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017 and raised money for the George Snow Scholarship Fund through Boca’s Ballroom Battle. In 2017, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce named Tolbert its business leader of the year.
Leaving, Tolbert said, is “the right decision. But it comes with incredibly mixed emotions.”
Will masks be required?
I wrote Tuesday about rising COVID-19 case numbers in South Florida, particularly in Palm Beach County. I wrote that widespread use of masks can greatly reduce the spread, but that governments haven’t required people to wear them.
That may change. Next week, the Palm Beach County Commission will discuss an ordinance that would make masks mandatory in public spaces.
On Tuesday, County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso said, “We need to let people know the virus is not gone. It’s very strong right now.” Statewide, Florida set a record Tuesday for new cases. The gain Wednesday was the second-highest in one day.
Alonso and other public health experts had predicted a rise as the state reopened. The problem is that the rise has been “too fast,” as County Commissioner Greg Weiss put it.
Alonso all but called Gov. DeSantis a liar for blaming the increase solely on increased testing. She said the rise is community spread; people are infecting each other. “The idea of closing down businesses was to starve the virus,” Alonso said. “Now we’re feeding it.”
Palm Beach County still awaits a response from the governor’s office on a request to move to Phase 2 reopening.
South Florida’s impact
Wells Fargo just analyzed all of the country’s metropolitan areas to determine which ones might have the greatest impact—either way— nationwide on recovery from COVID-19 restrictions. In case you’re curious, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties represent 1.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
New Delray CRA board member
The newest member of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Board is Kelcey Brooks. City Commissioner Adam Frankel nominated him, and the commission confirmed him unanimously on June 2.
Frankel referred to him as “Pastor Kelcey Brooks.” His application, though, lists Bocaire County Club as Brooks’ employer. He is a maintenance technician. Brooks also coached football at several high schools and Florida Atlantic University. Brooks joins Angeleta Gray, the other appointed member, and the five members of the city commission.
Ocean Strand update
The vacant Ocean Strand property is one step closer to becoming a park.
This week, the board of the Greater Boca Raton Beach approved a budget of $100,000 for the first phase of design and construction. The district expects to issue the bid this week with an application deadline of July 31.
Ocean Strand covers roughly 15 acres from the Intracoastal Waterway to A1A just north of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. At this point, the plan is to include a pedestrian gate, a walking trail and shaded picnic tables. A news release from the district did not mention parking.
Last year, a Boca Raton developer proposed buying Ocean Strand from the district and building a luxury hotel, condos and a marina. Money from the sale would have financed construction of the Boca National golf course and the master plan for Gumbo Limbo. But there was not much support among board members, and the district’s attorney advised that the agency only can acquire property, not sell it.
The district hopes to complete the project by the end of the year. Board member Steve Engel said that in the best case, the park could open in October. A Phase 2 is planned. It would have what Engel called “additional amenities.”
Boca Regional and SBA team up
Boca Raton Regional Hospital has announced a partnership with Boca-based SBA Communications, a publicly traded firm that owns and operates wireless infrastructure.
According to a news release, the agreement is part of a wellness initiative for SBA’s 1,500 employees. Services will include “on-site and off-site doctor’s appointments, blood pressure checks and blood screenings, mobile mammograms, yoga, meditation and mental health services, nutrition and lectures.” Many will be available by video.
SBA CEO Jeff Stoops said the COVID-19 pandemic added urgency to the company’s wellness plans. As part of the deal, SBA donated $1 million toward Boca Regional’s Keeping the Promise capital campaign.
Speaking of Boca Regional, the hospital this week slightly relaxed restrictions on visitors that had been imposed because of the pandemic. The changes apply at all Baptist Health South Florida hospitals.
Patients can have visitors, age 18 or older, at a time between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Emergency patients also can have one visitor. One partner can stay “continuously” with expecting or new mothers. COVID-19 patients or those suspected of having the virus can have visitors only under “exceptional circumstances.”
As for the Lynn Cancer Institute, “To continue protecting our immunocompromised cancer patients from the risks of COVID-19,” the announcement said, “no visitors will be able to accompany adult patients” until the pandemic ends.
“There will be special circumstances when it will be necessary for a single adult visitor to accompany a patient. Limited exceptions may include: new patients, pediatric patients, adult patients with identified neurocognitive impairment, and patients with a physical impairment that requires special assistance by their caretaker, as determined by their clinical team.”