It takes a lot of money to see this island. Sea Island Company owns and operates an upscale resort on a five-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Its Sea Island Resorts includes accommodations at The Cloister at Sea Island, Sea Island Cottages, and The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club. The properties offer world-class private golf courses, spa facilities, and other activities such as tennis, skeet shooting, dance instruction, and horseback riding. The company also has real estate developments including a cottage colony on an island off the Georgia coast. In 2010 Sea Island Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. An investment group in late 2010 acquired the company for some $212 million.
Sea Island buyers included private equity firms Oaktree Capital Management and Avenue Capital Group (who together had placed a bid of about $197.5 million for the company earlier in 2010) and Anschutz Corp. and Starwood Capital Group Global (who together had placed a separate bid of $199 million). In a surprise move, the two competing sides formed a joint bid for the assets later that year. The new owners are poised to launch a turnaround at the beleaguered Sea Island: Avenue and Oaktree Avenue are both specialists in distressed properties, while Starwood's CEO founded Starwood Hotels & Resorts and created the W hotel.
Like many players involved with the travel industry, Sea Island has felt the painful sting of the recession and real estate downturn. In 2010 it defaulted on its debt restructuring agreement with Columbus Bank and Trust. It later sold four prime properties on the Georgia coast totaling more than 20,000 acres. In 2008 the company laid off about 500 staff members, representing nearly a quarter of its workforce.
It first got into financial trouble after 2007, when it completed a six-year-long renovation project worth some $500 million. Included in the remodel were new additions, such as the Beach Club at Sea Island (complete with a swimming pool, theater, game room, and meeting space) and the 65,000-square-foot Spa at Sea Island. Because of the financial crisis, Sea Island failed to sell the residential properties in and around its resort communities. It accumulated hundreds of million of dollars in debt as a result.
In the past, Sea Island has long been a resort destination for the rich and famous. (Rates at its waterfront suites run upwards of $5,000 a night.) President George Bush and his wife Barbara honeymooned there, and their son, George W. Bush, chose it as the venue for the G8 summit in 2004.
Formed in 1928, Sea Island is led by chairman Bill Jones III, the fourth generation of the Jones family to manage the company.