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Goodbye Vero Beach Inn; Hello Surf Club
BY ALINA LAMBIET - STAFF WRITER (Week of October 15, 2009)

Say goodbye to the down-atthe- heels Vero Beach Inn, and hello to what’s being billed as a classy, island-style hotel to be named the Surf Club Hotel.

Palm Beach hotelier Jim Clarke has leased the 2.5-acre ocean-front property from owner John Bates for an undisclosed sum, and plans to renovate the property at 4700 State Road A1A and rename it. Clarke is known as a developer of boutique hotels and condos.

“We’ll be managing it. We’re definitely going to make it a lot nicer, give it some joie de vivre,” said Clarke, managing director of the club’s parent company, the Vero Beach Trading Co.

That means the Vero Beach Inn is officially off the market, said Beverlee Pulling, the listing agent with Thorpe Southeby’s International Realty. The last listing price for the Inn was $11 million, down from a peak in 2007 of $24 million, records show.

Jon Bates, the owner of the property, could not be reached for comment. He bought the 197,000-square –foot hotel in 1986 for $3.2 million. Built in the early 1970s, the hotel – which at one point was a Best Western -- has been an eyesore, particularly since the hurricane season of 2004 when it took substantial damage.

The Vero Beach Inn now has 112 rooms, but Clarke said his group will remodel the interiors to add more suites and rooms facing the ocean. The finished Surf Club will have about 100 rooms at rates of about $100 to $150 for peak season, more moderately priced than Gloria Estefan’s Costa d’Este and the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa.

The changes are expected to be significant. The exterior will get a white coat of paint, plenty of landscaping and a resurfaced parking lot. It will get a new seawall, too, Clarke said.

The interior will get a complete makeover. “We’re going to make the space significantly more useful,” said Clarke. “People will definitely get an island experience.”

“This is a tired lady,” Clarke said of the Inn. “It needs to be spruced up.”

The new space will have a remodeled lounge with enough room for dancing, and the dining room will remain outside, but enclosed, with awnings and curtains.

Where does Clarke go for design inspiration? He’s looking to Caribbean-style hotels in the Bahamas and Jamaica, the urban boutique hotels of New York and the British-inspired ones of Europe.

His market? Anyone within driving distance who wants to come to the beach, says Clarke. He points to year-round residents in Orlando as a starting point.

“This is one of the most fabulous towns in all of Florida,” said Clarke, who said he is renting here near the Moorings. “It has a wonderful serenity. People will want to discover it.”