MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The new owners of the South Beach mansion where Gianni Versace lived and died said Tuesday that they hope to use the Italian fashion designer's name and legacy in rebranding the property as a hotel.
VM South Beach LLC bid $41.5 million for the oceanfront property on Miami Beach's touristy Ocean Drive. The company's principals include the Nakash family of New York, which controls Jordache Enterprises.
Joe Nakash, chairman of Jordache Enterprises, said he expects to retain all the vestiges of Versace's time in South Beach in the 1990s _ the snake-haired Medusa heads, a swimming pool inlaid with 24-karat gold tiles, gold-plated bathroom fixtures, custom-made mosaic floorings and frescos and the throngs of tourists who still routinely stop to have their picture taken on the front steps where the designer was slain.
"We're going to keep it the way it is," Nakash said.
Jordache Enterprises owns five hotels in Miami Beach, including the Hotel Victor next door to the mansion.
"We'd like the public to use it, so we're going to create a hotel that will be consolidated with the Victor," Nakash said. "We're going to use the name Versace after we receive OK from the family."
Efforts to reach representatives for the Versace family were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Though the Versace family hasn't owned the oceanfront mansion since 2000, auctioneers hoped the designer's legacy would attract potential buyers. Celebrities and investors worldwide expressed interest, but in the end, only three bidders emerged, said Lamar Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Auction Company, which was appointed by a bankruptcy court.
Bidding started at $25.5 million and rose in $500,000 increments under a tent next to the mansion's 54-foot-long swimming pool, Fisher said.
VM South Beach outbid Donald Trump, whose other South Florida real estate holdings include the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and Trump National Doral. It also outbid Wellington developer Glenn Straub, who owns the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club.
Trump's son Eric left the mansion without speaking to reporters. Fisher said Trump's highest bid was $41 million, and he could get the property if the deal with VM South Beach falls through.
"It's a cash transaction. There are no contingencies on the property," Fisher said. A bankruptcy judge is expected to approve the deal Wednesday.
The mansion has been officially named Casa Casuarina for more than a decade, operating first as a private club and then as a boutique hotel until earlier this year. But locals still refer to it as "the Versace mansion." It was initially listed for sale at $125 million last year.
The asking price dropped to $75 million by June, and Nakash said he had been prepared to offer that much for the property.
"Have you ever been inside? You will understand how beautiful it is. The art, the pool, everything," Nakash said.
Even if the Versace family declines to license their name, Nakash said he planned to honor the designer with a plaque marking where he died.
Dan Golinsky, who works in real estate in Miami, still has his Casa Casuarina membership card in his wallet. Standing outside the mansion, he said the bidders knew the property came with a cache they could extend to their wealthy clientele.
"The whole thing has its own persona that obviously still speaks well for what Versace did in renovating it and bringing that prominence to Miami Beach," Golinsky said.
Versace and an entourage of celebrity friends that included Madonna, Cher and Elton John helped change South Beach from a retirement community known as "God's waiting room" to the party-centric, international tourist destination it is today.
The designer bought a neglected three-story, Mediterranean-style home, originally built in 1930 by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman, and a dilapidated hotel next door in 1992 and spent $33 million on renovations. The 23,000-square-foot mansion has 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and an open-air courtyard.
Versace was fatally shot in 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who later shot himself as a police search closed in on him.
Associated Press writer Colleen Barry contributed to this report from Milan, Italy.
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