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Sea Oaks expanding its Beach Club

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of March 19, 2015)

On a postcard-perfect evening last week, more than 100 local Realtors gathered at Sea Oaks for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and a poolside presentation of the barrier island community's plans to modernize and expand its Beach Club.

"When we are done," Jeff Mullins told the group, "Sea Oaks will be better than ever."

Mullins, a former Duke University basketball All-American, Olympic gold medalist and NBA All-Star who moved to Sea Oaks in 2001, now serves as co-chair of its marketing committee. And he said the $3.6 million project is necessary to "stay ahead of the market" and continue attracting new home buyers.

The 11-month project includes a complete remodeling of Sea Oaks' Georgian-style clubhouse, enlarging and improving the gazebo and beach bar, repaving the patio area around the swimming pool, and a redesign and upgrade of the clubhouse kitchen to enable more efficient service.

When completed, the Beach Club will offer both fine and casual dining overlooking the ocean, and the revamped gazebo and beach bar will provide "outdoor dining and a relaxed social gathering place," Mullins said.

Construction is scheduled to begin April 13, one day after the community's annual season-ending gala, and conclude by the end of March 2016. Handling the project are world-renowned interior designer Thom Filicia, Vero Beach architectural firm Edlund, Dritenbas, Binkley & Associates, and Summit Construction.

Although the Beach Club will be closed, the beach will remain accessible – via the current walkway on the north side of the clubhouse – throughout the project. The pool is expected to reopen in time for the community's Fourth of July celebration. The gazebo and beach bar are scheduled to reopen in early October, but without utilities.

While the Beach Club is closed, expanded dining service will be available at the Tennis Club and Community Center.

"We see this as something we had to do to remain competitive with other island communities for the next generation of buyers," said Dick Heffern, president of the Sea Oaks Property Owners Association. "We think we're a good alternative to John's Island, Windsor, The Moorings and Orchid Island. But we have to continue to maintain and improve our common property.

"This project will enhance the look and feel of the community," he added. "To have a new Beach Club also adds value to everyone's unit."

Sea Oaks has 614 units – single-family homes and condominiums – that house 1,100 residents and renters during the winter. Just over 30 percent of the community's residents live there on a year-round basis.

Although Sea Oaks is marketed as a tennis community, Mullins said the Beach Club is the big draw.

"In all of our surveys, the Beach Club is our No. 1 asset," Mullins said. "It's the Beach Club, then the greenery, and then tennis. Only about 50 percent of our members play tennis, but everyone uses the Beach Club."

In 2008, the Tennis Club and Community Center area underwent a renovation and expansion, which included the construction of a fitness center that has become one of Sea Oaks' more popular amenities.

As was the case then, some Sea Oaks residents also opposed the Beach Club improvements, which require a $2.8 million loan that will increase each unit's monthly dues by $20. Despite the opposition, however, property owners voted 342 to 202 (62.9 percent) to approve the project last spring.

The cost of the project has risen from $2.9 million when the vote was taken to the current $3.6 million, which includes $269,000 to cover contingencies.

According to Heffern and Mullins, many of those who voted against the 2008 improvements also voted against the Beach Club project. Some of them opposed the increase in dues.

"We've got more than 1,000 people living here, so you're going to get some opposition," Heffern said.

"Some people have been opposed from the beginning, but we haven't heard much recently. I think when people see the finished product, they're going to be glad that we did it."

Mullins said Sea Oaks not only lost wedding and other event business because the Beach Club needed a facelift, but the community also was in danger of losing buyers.

"We've heard from Realtors that some people wouldn't commit to buying here until the project was approved," he said.

Now, Mullins said home sales at Sea Oaks have increased significantly, prices are rising and rentals are better than ever. The modernized Beach Club will only help, serving as the perfect complement for a five-star Tennis Club, first-class fitness center, busy Community Center and riverside marina.

"It's only going to make Sea Oaks more attractive, especially to the younger buyers we need to reach," he said. "Sea Oaks is great, but the best is yet to come."