Beaufort News

New resort owner vows to revitalize Daufuskie

When J.T. Bramlette looks at the Daufuskie Island Resort & Breathe Spa, he sees a tired ghost town that has languished in bankruptcy for more than two years.

Bramlette, the 32-year-old managing partner of the Utah company that recently bought the resort's core, also sees "a hell of an opportunity" to remake the place into a name-brand destination.

Bramlette said the Pelorus Group of Salt Lake City is poised to succeed where the resort's previous developers failed.

"We're going to revitalize this entire project," Bramlette said.

Pelorus bought assets that include the resort's inn and the Melrose golf course from Denver private-investment group AFG this month. AFG is a lender that received the assets this year after a trustee was unable to sell the bankrupt estate in its entirety.

Pelorus paid $13 million for the assets, Bramlette said. The deal closed May 10, which he said was 25 days after company officials discovered the property.

Pelorus is still forming plans for the assets and could sell them to one of the "big hospitality groups" that have inquired, Bramlette said.

Pelorus isn't eager to flip the property, however, and is capable of sprucing it up on its own, he said.

Bramlette said his company doesn't have nearly as much debt as the resort's previous owners.

Ideas he is considering include improving the Melrose golf course, seeking to brand the resort's inn with the "flag" of a luxury hotelier such as Ritz-Carlton or Rosewood, moving the resort's pool closer to the inn, developing an outdoor amphitheater to attract young families and helping to establish a village market that would allow people to buy milk and other necessities without leaving the island.

Bramlette, who is rebounding from legal and financial problems, was reluctant to discuss his own bankruptcy. He sought bankruptcy protection in 2008 and emerged in 2009 after losing a $5 million private jet and $450,000 Mercedes sports car, The Associated Press has reported.

Bramlette said he has recovered and learned from his mistakes. He urged people not to judge him prematurely.

"I'm taking advantage of the current market," he said. "I'm not going to let it pass me buy just because I've had some bumps in the road."

Several Daufuskie residents seem willing to give Bramlette the opportunity to prove himself.

They know little about Pelorus and its plans for the resort, but they are pleased "the resort is now owned by somebody who wants to own it," said Aaron Crosby, chairman of the Daufuskie Island Council, an elected group that unofficially represents the island.

"I'm excited somebody's coming to the island that wants to be here," Crosby said.

Crosby said he isn't too concerned about Bramlette's reported legal and financial woes, saying they don't mean Pelorus can't succeed on Daufuskie.

"I'm more interested in what they want to do going forward than what they may have done in the past," Crosby said.

Crosby said many developers have hit such rough patches, particularly in the recent recession.

"There were a lot of really smart people that ran into some trouble," Crosby said.

Charles Cauthen, a real estate agent and developer who is a member of a company that owns about 1,200 of Daufuskie's 5,000 acres, said he's glad the resort's core has been sold.

"I think a sale of that big a piece of the island is positive," Cauthen said. "Time will tell if they're the right buyer or not."

Wick Scurry, who ferries tourists to Daufuskie and owns a marina, restaurant and general store there, said many people he has spoken with are "waiting with bated breath" for details about the company's plans.

"Everybody's hoping for the best," Scurry said.

Roger Pinckney, an author and Daufuskie resident, said hope is mixed with "extreme skepticism" on the island.

"I know the men on the mowers are happy to be mowing again, and their bosses are hoping they get paid," he said in an email.