Motel Magic

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008

George Rauch has preserved a bit of old Florida in the newly remodeled Sara Sea resort on Siesta Key. 

The 1950s-era, 22-room hotel was owned by a German family until 2005, when it was sold to be converted to condos. A local investor upgraded each interior with new flooring, elegant kitchenettes with granite countertops, and tiled bathrooms with glass-enclosed showers. But as the condo market fell, the conversion project failed. 

Rauch, who owns two adjacent short-stay hotel properties, Tropical Shores and Tropical Sun, bought Sara Sea Inn for $3.35 million in June, less than the amount for which it had been sold in 2005. “We’ve been trying to buy it for a long time, but the numbers just didn’t make sense,” Rauch said. “The bank had more money in it than it was worth.” 

His onsite management team has completed the interior renovation with furnishings, window treatments and security systems and brightened up the exterior with driveway pavers and an outdoor Jacuzzi.  “It had the basics. It was just getting it up to speed,” says Bill Gambill, who manages the resort business for the Rauch family.  “We gave it a facelift.” But the 1950s feel, with the flat roofs, park-like grounds and art deco drive-in breezeway struts over the exterior corridors, has been preserved.

Sara Sea Circle
is a small loop of beach-access properties just south of
Stickney Point Road
. Rauch’s Tropical Shores group of hotels consists of six, small-scale buildings and a total of 72 rooms. The price of a mid-size boutique room ranges by season from $99 to $269 per night, and most visitors stay for a week or less.

Their 96 percent occupancy rate for this year is well ahead of local and national averages.  “We’ve continued to do well even during a soft economy. That’s because people can come in for a night or two,” says general manager Dawn Van Lanen.

The group is concurrently gutting rooms within its Tropical Sun property, which Rauch purchased in 2000, and upgrading them with modern wiring, flooring, bathroom and decor.

Rauch, a former Wall Street investment banker who started and sold businesses and then moved to Longboat Key before he turned 30, admits that managing six older buildings, with six roofs and six air conditioning systems, can be a maintenance nightmare.  But he appreciates the scale and accessibility of the mom-and-pop style resorts, where you can drive right up to your front door.

“I like the resort business. It’s a happy business,” says Rauch, who is also CEO of General Propeller Company in Bradenton and a former Longboat Key commissioner.

When asked if he plans to acquire any more properties nearby, he notes that a 37-room motel, which is between his properties and the new Hyatt Siesta Beach, is also in bankruptcy. Although he and his team are focused now on the Tropical Shores renovations, “We could do something with that,” he says, adding, “You’ve got to get these things at the right price.”

Sara Sea’s grand opening is this month. 

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