Once-ritzy Jockey Club goes on auction block
Once the ultimate nightlife hub before South Beach rose to prominence, North Miami's Jockey Club has languished for nearly three decades.
Efforts by developers over the years to revive the once-swanky club and bayfront marina have been unsuccessful, but an upcoming foreclosure auction of a substantial portion of the site offers another opportunity to breathe new life into the property.
On Monday, more than 14 acres of the 30.7-acre Jockey Club property are set to be sold in an online Miami-Dade Circuit Court foreclosure auction.
The property, located at 11111 Biscayne Blvd., includes a vacant 8.16-acre bayfront parcel once occupied by the Lear School, a private school for the children of seasonal residents; a 16-slip deep-water marina; tennis courts and several swimming pools.
The auction does not include the 411 condominiums in three buildings at the club.
The auction follows a $23.7 million foreclosure judgment awarded in April to Seacoast National Bank, the leader of a group of 13 lenders that provided financing to three companies managed by local developer Yaron Horesh. Horesh planned to restore the marina and build residences on the vacant land.
While many foreclosure auctions result in a lender taking title to a property with a minimum bid, the uniqueness of the Jockey Club site could attract outside bidders. Such a scenario would be fine with the Seacoast group, said Miami attorney Paul Friedman, who represents Seacoast in the foreclosure case.
"Seacoast welcomes anyone outbidding it at the foreclosure sale and understands the property may be sold for less than the judgment indebtedness," Friedman said.
Horesh, manager of Cinerest LLC, Tifeeret LLC and Tzion LLC, paid $18.6 million for the site in 2005 but never started construction of the residential project. Seacoast and the other lenders filed to foreclose shortly after the $25 million loan matured in July 2008 with about $20 million still owed.
Calls to Horesh were not returned.
At the time of Horesh's purchase, developers were aggressively buying waterfront property with plans to build luxury residential towers. Former marina sites were also being redeveloped, creating a demand for available dockage.
The Jockey Club property had been rife with issues even before Horesh's companies entered the picture.
Horesh was one of several owners to be foreclosed on, according to Miami-Dade County records.
Horesh bought the property from Jockey Club Eighteen Investments, led by Michel Azeroual.
Azeroual bought the property for $4.2 million in a bankruptcy auction in 2002. The previous owner, Agincourt IV LLC, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization a year earlier.
Agincourt had been fending off foreclosure by its main creditor, New York-based Mercury Capital. He was also battling the complex's unit owners, who claimed Agincourt had not paid maintenance fees on 14 units that operated as a boutique hotel.
In 2001, residents lost a six-year lawsuit stemming from a 1995 foreclosure against then-owner Jockey Club Inc. Jockey Club Inc. was found in default and sold the property to Jockey Holding Inc., which later sold it to Agincourt.
The residents had argued that since Jockey Holding was selling memberships to outsiders for the use of the club facilities, the company should pay a percentage of what it cost to operate and maintain the property. The problem was, no new memberships had been sold since 1995.
Conflicts were not limited to the landowners and their creditors. Condo owners filed multiple lawsuits contending developers were not paying maintenance fees.
The problems never deterred investors from thinking they would be the white knights who could expand and revitalize the club and marina, said attorney Andrew Hall, a commercial litigator at Miami's Hall Lamb & Hall.
"The property, for the last 30 years, has always traded on the idea that someone could make it into something of value," Hall said. "But nobody could get in there and make magic again."
Hall represented a previous owner of the property in the 1980s, but is not involved in the current foreclosure case.
At its apex in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Jockey Club had the high society sizzle of today's South Beach. The club had 3,500 members, including actor Charlton Heston and comedian Jerry Lewis.
"Back in the 1970s, a young adult in his or her 20s and 30s would go to the Jockey Club every Friday and Saturday night to play," Hall said. "It was a club with bars, restaurant, disco dancing - the works. There were backgammon tournaments that were popular at the club, too."
The Jockey Club was developed in 1968 by M. Jack Herman. Only club members and condo residents had access to club amenities, including the clubhouse, tennis courts, swimming pools and marina. The marina was particularly popular with wealthy yacht owners because of its 15-foot depth at low tide.
As the Miami Beach scene took off and Aventura and the Brickell financial district blossomed, the Jockey Club lost its cache. Starting in the mid-1980s, the club went through several ownership changes, bankruptcies and foreclosures.
"A great property was left in the dust," Hall said.
Despite the myriad issues facing the club, proponents have predicted over the last three decades that someone would take over the site and bring the club back to prominence.
LAND AND LOCATION
Monday's auction presents one more chance for a developer to revive the Jockey Club by restoring the marina and finding a suitable complement for the condo towers on the vacant waterfront land.
A large inventory of residential land is up for sale in South Florida, according to Rosendo Caveiro, senior director of apartment brokerage services at Cushman & Wakefield of Florida.
But the proximity to Biscayne Bay and the presence of the marina sets the Jockey Club site apart from much of the available land, Caveiro said.
"The site has a number of intriguing things," he said. "Obviously the name Jockey Club is one. Plus, Biscayne Boulevard has been upgraded significantly over the last 10 years. Waterfront land that stretches all the way to the boulevard would be perfect for a Class A rental apartment complex."
The auction should result in a winning bidder coming away with the site for a much more suitable price than the $18.6 million Horesh paid in 2005, Caveiro said.
"The challenge is, to build rentals you have to be able to buy the land reasonably cheap," he said. "You can't pay condo prices for it; the numbers won't work."
Eric Kalis can be reached at (305) 347-6651.
Jockey Club photo by Jill Kahn