The Bath Club Miami Beach was founded in 1926 as a members-only gathering place where wealthy scions, celebrities and other influentials could meet over lunch, swimming and tennis. Chartered by the State of Florida, it was the first private social club in the Southeast, developed on the site of a one-time avocado plantation.
Apropos of societal and cultural changes that took place over subsequent decades, Ray Donahue (Don) Peebles became the club’s first African American member in 1996. A few years later, the visionary developer purchased the property and then added a 107-unit luxury condo tower and six elegant villas on the site.
It’s likely that none of the founders could have imagined that Peebles would one day own that property and transform it into an “exclusively inclusive” club that welcomed members of all ethnicities, cultures and lifestyles.
But meet Don Peebles, an entrepreneur with a strong social conscience and extraordinary commitment to diversity. Peebles is the founder and chairman of The Peebles Corporation, a multibillion-dollar venture that is the largest black-owned real estate development company in the U.S.—with projects in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Charlotte, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as the one at The Bath Club in Miami.
He is also an author, popular keynote speaker, and regular guest on CNN, CNBC and FOX, addressing educational, business and professional issues. He has served on the National Finance Committee of President Barack Obama, on the Board of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and is the former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Forbes.com spoke to Mr. Peebles about his plans to transform the historic Bath Club to a modern private club and open up its membership:
As a real estate entrepreneur, how, when and why did you get involved with the property?
Don Peebles: I responded to an international Request for Proposal (RFP) and was ultimately the chosen responder within the competition. They liked my vision for the Club. The opportunity to develop directly on the ocean in this most coveted part of Miami Beach is enough for any developer to be interested but to be able to create some balance where it was once denied was incredibly motivating.
Given the Club’s discriminatory history, it was a chance to make a statement as to how far Miami and America had come. My commitment to the preservation of the clubhouse, keeping it as a venue and allowing original members access, was just one more reason I was chosen.
As the first African American member of the Club, what did the purchase mean to you personally?
DP: You know, I didn’t even know that I was the first African American member until I received a phone call from the Miami Herald after I had joined. To be a part of the history of an institution like this and being afforded the opportunity to be the catalyst for transforming it was motivating.
Since the beginning of my career, every project I have ever pursued was fueled by a passion for positive change—creating inclusion, which will give rise to a balance. My company engages in affirmative development and this is the main vehicle through which we mandate ourselves to engage a minimum of 30% contracting on all our projects with Minority and Women-Owned Businesses.
This is not only socially effective but financially effective, as well…we call it “doing well by doing good.” In today’s world, people are demanding corporations do more than just make money. Businesses with an eye to the future would do well to begin to elevate their goals of inclusion and diversity. As a 100% minority-owned company, my wife and I have personally committed to relaunching The Bath Club. When we sat down and talked about how to reimagine this Club, while keeping its historical roots and bringing it into the 21st century, we knew these principles would be our guide.
Exactly where is The Club located?
DP: The Club is beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean on Collins Avenue in a historic district of Miami Beach. Its location is ideal for locals, travelers and annual visitors looking to explore the luxe and more refined Miami lifestyle, to enjoy stellar oceanside service, and to escape from the cold weather.
What are your goals for its reinvention?
DP: To bring our “affirmative development” vision to life, we brought on the very talented female, minority-owned firm Antrobus + Ramirez, for the redesign. Luxury is increasingly aligned with legacy, history and authenticity–things that never go out of style and are appreciated more as time goes by. Our goal is to keep a sense of history embedded in the property while modernizing it to fit in today’s world.
What type of traveler would the new Bath Club appeal to? How do you anticipate members will use the club?
DP: The Bath Club is a members-only club that seeks to foster the idea of “Exclusively Inclusive.” Membership isn’t based on wealth or status. The Club will appeal to individuals who want a place that feels like home on Miami Beach. We will be accepting only 200 memberships for this coveted experience.
Sophisticated travelers looking to experience the best of what Miami life has to offer will find themselves right at home. We have created a historic space akin to an estate on the ocean. With a relaxed and inviting atmosphere in mind, we have provided many common areas within the property for 200 members and their guests to mingle, relax and host events.
We intend for this to be a “home away from home,” a place that our members can enjoy all day and well into the evening feeling at home. Family events will include: sports lessons, Sunday barbecues, outdoor movies and guest lectures with the club offering places to dine, relax, read, sun, work and play—with all the services to make these choices effortless. Ultimately, it will be a place for Miami’s residents, but also welcoming to celebrities and affluent travelers who want high-quality service.
What competition does the Club have in southern Florida?
DP: In terms of a private club, the Bath Club is peerless. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (formerly called Villa Vizcaya) is a competitive and authentic event venue, but it is not a private club nor is it located on a huge beachfront. Some newer hotel-affiliated beach clubs do exist but they’re also a totally different experience; they’re not the same at all. A historic and authentic private beach club capped at only 200 memberships is an entirely unparalleled experience.
Can you describe the Club in terms of its amenities, ground, services, etc.?
DP: Members and their guests can enjoy exclusive access to our beach and pool with complimentary chaise lounges, umbrellas, towels and daily cabana rental. We have spa services as well as a fitness center and two clay tennis courts plus curated wellness programs which include yoga, meditation, cooking classes and more. We offer perks for the whole family including kids’ programs with babysitting, special event discounts, access to private members-only events, full-day programming and much more!
What type of cuisine/dining experience is planned?
We’re in the midst of putting the finishing touches on the dining experience at The Bath Club. The menu for our Poolside Restaurant & Bar will be curated by Apicii Hospitality.
When is the launch planned and how can people learn more?
Our official launch is fast-approaching and set to take place in early 2020. Potential members can request more information by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org/
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.