June 09--Harry Spirides, owner of Tybee Island's 200-room Ocean Plaza Beach Resort, announced Monday that he and his family have agreed to sell the hotel at the end of the summer season.
Spirides said Linchris Hotel Corp. of Hanover, Mass., has made an all cash offer that "exceeded everyone's expectations" and plans to invest millions of dollars in improvements to the resort.
"I believe this will be a win-win scenario everyone can be proud of," Spirides said, adding that representatives of Linchris will visit Ocean Plaza in the coming weeks to meet employees and conduct interviews as well as meet with Tybee Island officials to discuss the improvements they would like to make to the property.
The Ocean Plaza has been in Spirides' family for nearly 50 years.
Linchris Hotel Corp. is also family-owned, a 30-year-old hotel management company that operates its own hotels and provides management services for more than two dozen franchise properties that include Holiday Inn, Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn, Doubletree, Hampton Inn and Wingate by Wyndham.
The agreement with Ocean Plaza marks the first time the company has ventured beyond the Northeast.
"We've been looking to expand south," said Glenn Gistis, Chief financial officer of Linchris. "A hotel broker brought the Ocean Plaza to us, and we felt that it fit the bill."
The company has finished all due diligence and expects to close the sale by the end of July.
"We'll have our project management team down there in a few weeks to begin looking at the property and coming up with ideas and a design plan," said Gistis, whose father, Chris Gistis, is the founder and CEO of Linchris.
But, for the remainder of the summer season, it will be business as usual at the Ocean Plaza, he said.
"Because the summer season at Tybee is so long, we don't really anticipate getting any major work done this winter -- just repairs and minor refurbishing," Gistis said.
The property also will continue -- for now -- under the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort name.
Also undecided is whether the resort will be a franchise property or owned by Linchris.
"We have had some franchise interest," he said. "But we also own two other ocean properties -- in Cape Cod and Westerly, R.I. -- and are familiar with management of seasonal resorts."
Spirides said he has been impressed with the high caliber of the Linchris management team.
"I have complete confidence handing over the reins of responsibility and of ownership of this historic hotel property to Linchris Hotel Corp.," he said.
As recently as last December, Spirides was looking for investors for a major restoration of the historic hotel and touting the need for a public-private partnership to develop a larger conference center and public parking garage on the property.
No stranger to controversy, especially regarding his views on Tybee's sand dunes, Spirides has long taken issue with the large dunes between his hotel and the beach.
As early as 2001, he broached the subject before the mayor and town council.
In 2012, Spirides was cited by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for damaging a protected sand dune in front of the hotel by having workers shovel sand from the top of the dune in the middle of the night in February and March of that year.
Spirides called the incident accidental and took full responsibility, saying his laborers had been overzealous in clearing a handicapped accessible walkway the dune had spilled onto.
He paid the $100 criminal fine and paid for restoration under the supervision of the DNR. He also gave the Tybee Island Marine Science Center a check for $10,000 to fund education programs.
He said he looks forward to seeing what the Linchris team has in mind for the hotel.
"Linchris senior executives have told me they intend to embrace the rich history of this hotel property in their renovation of Ocean Plaza -- to perhaps bring it back to the splendor of the legendary Hotel Tybee, which existed here more than 100 years ago," Spirides said.
"This has always been my ultimate goal."
Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, called the development very exciting for Tybee.
"Harry and his family have done a wonderful job with this historic hotel for many, many years," Marinelli said.
"But there comes a time when fresh eyes and fresh hands -- and, most importantly, a fresh injection of dollars -- is needed to make the difference."
Tybee has become a real success story, with visitor spending numbers up for the last few years, Marinelli said.
"If this new company does what they say they are going to do, they could be writing the next chapter for resorts on Tybee."
As for Linchris, they were not completely unaware of Tybee even before the Ocean Plaza deal came up.
"Several members of our corporate staff have vacationed on Tybee and were really excited when we began to look at it," Gistis said.
"Our goal is to become part of the community, to be a good citizen to the island."