From left: Cricket Taplin, Martin Taplin and Martha Stewart
Under financial strain and with the knowledge that he would soon lose his beloved Sagamore Hotel, Martin Taplin fell to his death on Tuesday, within hours of signing a contract to sell the property for $63 million to InSite Group, based in Fort Lauderdale.
The events leading to Taplin’s death on Tuesday, revealed to The Real Deal by sources who worked with Taplin for several years but declined to be named, combined with information from Bal Harbour’s police chief, unveil a sad saga leading up to his death at age 77.
Taplin fell from the 25th-floor balcony of his step-mother’s penthouse condominium at Bal Harbour Tower, 9999 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour Police Chief Mark Overton confirmed. The matter is still under investigation and it remains unclear whether he accidentally fell or jumped.
Sources say he drove straight to the apartment after signing the deal to sell the Sagamore Hotel. He asked his step-mother for a glass of water, and while she was turned away, disappeared off the balcony ledge. His step-mother, Sheila Elias Taplin, has not returned a message left at her art studio on Thursday afternoon.
Taplin headed Martin W. Taplin & Associates, and was known for his love of art, an affinity he shared with his wife Cricket Taplin.
Sinking under a mound of debt, Taplin’s oceanfront Sagamore Hotel in South Beach was facing a balloon payment of $31.5 million plus $14 million in interest due on April 11, and if unpaid, would be under threat of foreclosure by LNR Properties, sources said. As TRD reported last Friday, the South Beach hotel was quietly being marketed for sale for about $60 million.
Taplin had willing buyers at a price of $80 million last November. But he was urged by his son-in-law Neil Sazant to wait to see if the debt could be refinanced with another lender, sources said. But that didn’t pan out.
By January or February of this year, another willing buyer emerged for the Sagamore at $70 million. A group from a New York company came to Miami with their attorneys, and Taplin negotiated to sell the hotel. Two sources said that he signed a contract, unbeknownst to his son-in-law. Another source said he never actually signed it.
Meanwhile, his son-in-law and attorney were working with the Fort Lauderdale-based buyer, InSite Group, to purchase the hotel for $63 million, in a deal that was to be signed on Tuesday. Under mounting pressure, Taplin signed the deal. InSite, backed by Israeli investors, owns hotels and multi-family projects, according to the company’s website. The deal is expected to close before April 11.
Described as a kind-hearted, sweet man who was loved by all, Taplin was dealing with a great deal of stress. Some sources also described a difficult working relationship with his son-in-law.
The loss of his beloved hotel, which he had owned since 1997, was no small thing for Taplin. It was there that he proudly based his art collection, and where he hosted weddings and bar mitzvahs, art events, cocktail parties and dinners. It was as though he was the mayor of the property, as one colleague described it.
Either way, through a sale or a foreclosure, he would lose the hotel. And at the lower price, far less would be left over for himself, his wife, children and grandchildren, after satisfying the debt obligations.
The Sagamore, owned by Sagamore Partners Ltd., had faced hard financial times before and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2011. At the time, Sagamore Partners Ltd. said it filed for bankruptcy to protect the property from a foreclosure suit filed by special servicer LNR Partners. The hotel had defaulted on its $31.5 million mortgage and tried to stop a foreclosure action in 2010. Sagamore Partners said that it stopped making the payments in an effort to restructure the loan, as per LNR’s instructions.
The family has declined to comment, through spokespeople, on the circumstances surrounding Taplin’s death or where it occurred.
Services will be held Friday at noon at Blasberg Rubin Zilbert funeral home at 720 71st Street in Miami Beach.