Reinventing a well-known non-public membership in St John Seashore
Artist’s impression of the Members’ Cafe at The Bath Club
The Bath Club
The Bath Club St John Beach was founded in 1926 as a members-only gathering place where wealthy kids, celebrities and other influential people could meet over lunch, swimming, and tennis. It was chartered from the state of Florida and was the first private social club in the southeast to be developed on the site of a unique avocado plantation.
Roy Donahue (Don) Peebles became the club’s first African American member in 1996. A few years later, the visionary developer bought the property, then added a 107-unit luxury condominium tower and six elegant villas on the site.
It is likely that none of the founders could have imagined that one day Peebles would own this property and turn it into an “exclusively inclusive” club that welcomes members of all races, cultures and lifestyles.
But do meet Don Peebles, an entrepreneur with a strong social conscience and an exceptional commitment to diversity. Peebles is the founder and chairman of The Peebles Corporation, a multi-billion dollar company that is the largest black-owned real estate developer in the United States, with projects in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Charlotte, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Bath Club in St John.
He is also a writer, popular keynote speaker, and regular guest on CNN, CNBC, and FOX covering educational, business, and professional issues. He served on President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee, served on the board of directors of the Greater St John Convention and Visitors Bureau, and was a past chairman of the Black Caucus Foundation of Congress.
Forbes.com spoke to Mr Peebles about his plans to convert the historic Bath Club into a modern private club and open his membership:
How, when and why did you get involved in real estate as a real estate entrepreneur?
Don Peebles: I responded to an international RFP (RFP) and ended up being the selected respondent within the competition. They liked my vision for the club. The opportunity to develop in this most desirable oceanfront part of St John Beach is enough for any developer to be interested, but it was incredibly motivating to strike a balance where it was once rejected.
Given the club’s discriminatory history, it was an opportunity to make a statement about how far St John and America had come. My dedication to maintaining the clubhouse, maintaining the venue, and allowing original members access was just another reason I was selected.
What did the purchase mean for you personally as the first African American member of the club?
DP: You know, I didn’t even know I was the first African American member until I got a call from the St John Herald after joining. It was motivating to be part of the history of such an institution and to have the opportunity to be the catalyst for its transformation.
Since the beginning of my career, every project I’ve ever pursued has been driven by a passion for positive change – creating inclusion that will lead to balance. My company deals with “Affirmative Development ™”. This is the main tool by which we commit to contracting at least 30% in all of our projects with minority and women owned companies.
This is not only socially but also financially effective. We call it “doing good by doing good”. In today’s world, people are demanding that companies make more than just money. Future-oriented companies would do well to improve their inclusion and diversity goals. As a 100% minority owned company, my wife and I made a personal commitment to restart The Bath Club. When we sat down and talked about how we could reinterpret this club while preserving its historic roots and bringing it into the 21st century, we knew these principles would be our guide.
Where exactly is the club located?
DP: The club is located directly on the Atlantic Ocean on Collins Avenue in a historic district of St John Beach. The location is ideal for locals, travelers and annual visitors who want to explore the luxurious and sophisticated lifestyle of St John, enjoy great oceanfront service and escape the cold weather.
What are your goals for reinvention?
Artist’s impression of the lush courtyard
The Bath Club
DP: To bring our vision of Affirmative Development ™ to life, we hired the very talented minority-owned company Antrobus + Ramirez, for the redesign. Increasingly, luxury is geared towards legacy, history and authenticity – things that never go out of style and become more valued over time. Our goal is to anchor a sense of history in the property and at the same time to modernize it so that it fits into today’s world.
What kind of travelers would the new Bath Club appeal to? How do you expect members to use the club?
DP: The Bath Club is a members-only club that aims to promote the idea of ”Exclusively Inclusive”. Membership is not based on wealth or status. The club will appeal to people looking for a place to feel at home in St John Beach. We will only be accepting 200 memberships for this coveted experience.
Discerning travelers looking to experience the best of St John life will find themselves at home. We created a historic space that resembles a seaside property. With a view to creating a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, we have provided 200 common areas within the property for 200 members and their guests to meet, relax and host events.
We intend this to be a “home away from home,” a place that our members can enjoy all day and into the evening. Family events include: exercise classes, Sunday barbecues, outdoor movies, and guest lectures. The club offers places to eat, relax, read, sunbathe, work and play – with all the services to make these decisions effortless. Ultimately, it will be a place for St John’s residents, but also for celebrities and wealthy travelers who want quality service.
What competition does the club have in South Florida?
DP: When it comes to a private club, the Bath Club is unique. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (formerly called Villa Vizcaya) is a competitive and authentic venue, but it’s not a private club, nor is it located on a huge beach. There are some newer hotel-affiliated beach clubs, but they’re a whole different experience too. They are not the same at all. A historic and authentic private beach club with only 200 memberships is an experience like no other.
Can you describe the club in terms of facilities, terrain, services, etc.?
DP: Members and their guests have exclusive access to our beach and pool with free chaise longues, umbrellas, towels and daily cabana rentals. We offer spa services, plus a fitness center and two clay tennis courts, as well as curated wellness programs that include yoga, meditation, cooking classes, and more. We offer perks for the whole family, including children’s programs with babysitting, discounts for special occasions, access to events for private members only, all-day programs and much more!
What kind of kitchen / dining experience are planned?
We’re in the process of adding the finishing touches to the dining experience at The Bath Club. The menu for our Poolside Restaurant & Bar is compiled by Apicii Hospitality.
When is it scheduled to start and how can people learn more?
Our official start is imminent and is expected to take place in early 2020. Prospective members can request further information by email: [email protected]/
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 3: Don Peebles, Katrina Peebles, and Don Peebles Jr. attend Mission Society 2019 … [+]
Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.