The developers of the Portofino Resort are close to partnering with Intrawest to manage the luxury condos and to build a sixth and seventh tower, possibly connected by a four-star hotel.
Robert Rinke, a partner in Levin and Rinke Resort Realty, the local firm that developed Portofino, said a contract with the resort-management giant based in Vancouver, British Columbia, should be finalized by March 1.
He and partner Andrew Rothfeder are working with Intrawest, a national network of resort properties, to build two 117-unit towers, possibly connected by a hotel, on the remaining 12 acres of Portofino's beach property, immediately east of the five existing towers.
Rinke said preliminary design plans for the two towers and hotel will get under way in April. If all goes well, the new buildings will take about 3½ years to complete, he said.
"We're very excited,'' Rinke said of the partnership. "We think it will have a very positive effect on all the owners here."
Intrawest spokeswoman Zandra Wolfgram said the deal with Portofino is "a perfect fit for the Intrawest model.''
"The amenities they provide and the level of quality they offer are just what we are looking for," she said.
Terry Scruggs, one of five tower presidents of the Portofino Homeowner's Association, said Intrawest will bring "world-class marketing" to the resort.
"They're one of the top groups in the world, and we've very excited about them coming in as property managers," he said.
Scruggs said 65 percent to 70 percent of Portofino's 765 privately owned units are on the rental market, and he believes Intrawest's huge client data base will substantially improve occupancy rates.
Summer daily rates for a two-bedroom unit at any of Portofino's five towers averages around $400 a day. Those same two-bedroom, 1330-square-foot units are selling in the $800,000 to $950,000 range, according to the Pensacola Board of Realtor's most recent Multiple Listing Service data.
"I think the general consensus is that it is a very positive thing for owners, and it will attract more renters to Pensacola Beach," Scruggs said. "I think it's a new day for Pensacola Beach."
John Davidson, another Portofino tower president, called the transition to Intrawest "a very positive move."
"It's a very solid management company ... and I'm encouraging as many (Portofino owners) as I can to look at signing on with them," he said.
Rinke said he and his late partner, Allen Levin, who died last month, began working with Intrawest several years ago to forge an agreement to manage the resort and partner with them on developing two more condo towers.
Intrawest already manages Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and Seaside in Walton County and also owns and operates numerous ski resorts throughout North America.
"What we were looking for is a company that manages both hotels and condos and develops resort properties," Rinke said. "They are the only sizeable company that does all three. They bought Sandestin eight or nine years ago and what they did with that property is nothing less than phenomenal."
Intrawest has a strong relationship with Westin Hotels, and Rinke hopes the new partnership will result in the building of the sixth and seventh residential towers connected by a large four-star hotel.
Santa Rosa Island Authority General Manager W.A. "Buck" Lee said he has not yet been briefed on the details of the deal with Intrawest but welcomes the news.
"We always knew they were going to build towers six and seven, and the 234 units would cap us out on the beach," said Lee, referring to the state-imposed limit of 4,200 condo units on the beach.
Lee said he was glad to hear that the deal with Intrawest could result in a hotel being built on Portofino property.
"We're ready for this and glad to hear that a hotel is in their plans," he said.
The Island Authority, which governs the beach, imposes a 3 percent tax on all hotel rooms, and that revenue stream provides about a third of its operating budget.
Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and then Hurricane Dennis in 2005 destroyed nearly half of all the hotel rooms on the beach, severely impacting the authority's revenue.