After the sale of the property to another developer fell through following a very public battle with neighbors, the Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach has been sold.
But the new owners — a boutique hotel management company — say they have no plans at this time to change the iconic vintage motel, aside from some general repairs and renovations.
“At the moment, we’re just focused on operating the property,” said Sonny Bhikha, a principal with Shivam Properties.
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Key International, a Miami-based developer, had planned to buy the Magic Beach Motel and turn it into the 194-room Vilano Beach Hotel. The firm backed out of the deal last December after the St. Johns County Commission voted 4-0 to deny its design application. Key International is the same company behind the Embassy Suites in St. Augustine Beach.
On May 9, Shivam Properties finalized the $3.8 million transaction to buy the 24-room motor lodge at 50 Vilano Road from Earl and Remy Jensen who have owned it since 2010.
The firm also manages motels and hotels in Jacksonville Beach, where it is based, as well as the Rodeway Inn on Ponce de Leon Blvd. in St. Augustine.
Typically, Shivam Properties purchases a franchise of a national chain and then refurbishes it with sleek, modern amenities.
“There’s such a demand for hotels that are not cookie-cutter,” Bhikha said. “We saw the opportunity here and just kind of moved on from there.”
Shivam Properties has already taken over management of the Magic Beach Motel and is continuing operations as usual, including honoring previous reservations.
Magic Beach Motel got its name from its use as a set location for the 1999 Warner Brothers TV series “Safe Harbor,” starring Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee Rue McClanahan. Also featuring Gregory Harrison, the series was about a sheriff and father of three boys living in Magic Beach, Florida, a fictional town.
The motel, built in 1951, features Art Deco design and has become a community fixture in Vilano.
Neighbors founded the North Beach Community Alliance, a group of citizens and local small businesses, in 2021 to address concerns over a development they believed could negatively impact the environment and quality of life.
Last August, the group put out a petition asking the county suspend permits for commercial and mixed-use developments in Vilano Beach Town Center which garnered nearly 700 signatures. Local residents also spoke out at the first planning meetings where Key International floated the idea of the 194-room hotel.
Michael Clare-Salzler, a 10-year Vilano resident who does not belong to the North Beach Community Alliance but is concerned about overdevelopment, spoke to The Record on Wednesday.
Clare-Salzler said he not heard about the purchase of the Magic Beach Motel by new owners. When given a description of the new owner’s plans for the property, Clare-Salzler said, “Well, that’s good news to hear.”
In recent years, the Vilano area has become more commercially developed.
In addition to existing hotels and Airbnb rentals, the 50-room Holiday Inn Express has opened and a Hyatt Place 120-room hotel will open this fall.
To Bhikha’s mind, competition is good and he can understand why tourists find the area appealing.
“The whole Vilano Beach is walkable, safe and a place where people want to come disconnect,” Bhikha said.