In the Know: Biggest real estate deal in nearly three years nets $36 million beachfront mansion

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

So the home didn't go for the $58 million that the trust of a former Westinghouse Electric executive originally listed it for seven years ago in Naples.

But this past week's $36 million purchase of a Port Royal gulf-front mansion still ranks as the priciest in about three years in Southwest Florida, according to Matt Simmons, a principal of real estate appraisal firm Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons.

The 18,172 square feet at 2750 Gordon Drive featured a five-car "collectors" garage, a 500-bottle wine room and a half-dozen bedrooms after a $3.5 million renovation for Robert A. Watson, former president and chief executive officer of units of Westinghouse and TransAmerica.

Built in 1999 and called “La Campana," the Italian Renaissance-style palace, with its marble floors and fireplace, included a beachside game room, his and hers studies, a two-story rotunda, an elevator and a mahogany bar with green marble top. With 14 full and half baths, you had your choice of multiple bidets and jetted tubs.

Near a cabana with a full kitchen, dancing fountains surrounded a zero-edged pool on the 1.55 acres overlooking the sands of the Gulf of Mexico and two doors away from the exclusive Port Royal Club. The 2019 property tax bill: $238,058, on tax assessed value of $23.3 million.

The price tag has been dropping over the years, $51.9 million in August 2017 and $42.5 million in December 2018. Zillow estimates its current value at $18.6 million.

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The Randal D. Bellestri Living Trust had unloaded it for $27.3 million in December 2011 to serve as Watson's castle. When the Watson trust first put the palazzo on the market three years later, the costliest ever sold in Naples up to that time had also been a Bellestri acquisition for $47.25 million at 3100 Gordon Drive in 2012.

In September 2014, Bellestri was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $500,000 for filing false tax returns and conspiracy to file false tax returns.

That Bellestri home has been listed at $39.9 million, and Simmons said it had an agreed-upon contract as of early January.

2750 Gordon Drive ranked in tenth place on a list of the 10 most expensive residential listings in Florida, with a price tag of $58 million.

With the brand new purchase of the Watson residence near the end of the week, public records were incomplete, and the agents weren't available to fill in some of the blanks, such as the buyer's name. However, my colleagues and I plan to keep checking back.

This is the most expensive since 2500 Gordon sold for the highest ever at $48 million in June 2018. Since that time, it has been torn down, and Simmons said there have been four Southwest Florida sales between $22 million and $28 million.

"It can be very difficult to sell a property like this," he said. "The pool of buyers is very small and the marketing efforts need to be surgical. With a median-priced home you can cast a wide net in exposing the home because it’s hitting the middle of the pool of buyers. Unique properties, in general, require a lot of skill in how they are marketed, but properties like this are on a different level entirely. It’s much more personal, relationship-oriented, and targeted. It’s not easy to navigate transactions like these but Southwest Florida has a number of superb professional agents who are elite at what they do and know how to deliver on transactions like these."

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Not many folks can afford the newly sold pad, and it would even "still be a reach" if you had the winning $1 billion Mega Millions ticket about a week ago, Simmons said.

If you took the lump sum, which Simmons recommends, it would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of $461 million in this state.

"For a Florida winner taking the lump sum, buying something for $36 million, assuming they don’t have wealth otherwise, would represent about 8% of your net worth," Simmons said. "For most Americans, their home equity represents usually 15-30% of their net worth. But for the category of the ultra-wealthy, talking $200 million-$250 million-plus, they typically have less than 5% of their net worth in a house. Being worth $461 million and having 8% of that in a residence is actually out of line for how  most ultra-wealthy folks allocate their funds. Of course, that’s not always the case. But that’s the typical ratio."

If you go the annuity payment route, and that still means paying the taxes up front, then it's three years before you would probably have enough to cover the total cost of the digs as long as you don't spend that cash on anything else along the way. Like that sudden urge for a Lamborghini Sian FKP 37. Retail: $3.6 million, 2021's second most expensive, but U.S. News & World Report notes it is the company's first hybrid.

The highest priced abode on the market right now is another case of "Keeping up with the Gordons", instead of the Joneses. It's $65 million and right next door at 2700 Gordon Drive, listed in November 2019.

That property used to be part of the newly sold 2750 Gordon parcel and previously had been owned by D.L. "Stoney" Stoneburner, a key player in Collier history in development, agriculture and other ventures. Stoneburner had obtained it from a co-founder of Briggs and Stratton Corp. for $2.1 million in 1979, according to my research of our archives.

Interested? The massive beachfront family compound on four acres consists of an 11,511-square-foot main house, a 4,675-square-foot guest dwelling and a 2,303-square-foot caretaker's cottage.

If not, there are nine properties currently up for grabs in Naples for $15 million or more, Simmons said. One of them is a penthouse in the Regent at Park Shore, 4104 Gulf Shore Blvd N.

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Naples Senior Center rendering

A senior deal

You may be seeing construction soon near Immokalee Road and I-75.

Oh wait, there's always building going on around there. But this one isn't commercial.

The Naples Senior Center, a nonprofit organization that provides programs and social services for seniors, has purchased 13.7 acres for its new home on Autumn Oaks Lane, just south of Immokalee Road, according to spokesman Clay Cone.

The $2.75 million deal closed in the past few days. The plans for the 30,000-square-foot facility has had a little pushback from some nearby residents, and my colleague Laura Layden has plans for a follow-up.

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The Naples Starbucks at Central Avenue and U.S. 41 was due to close by Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021.

Pouring the last cup of coffee

You used to always hear about a Starbucks opening.

How about ones that are leaving?

Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor

Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor said she's going to miss the "good neighbor" at the Central Avenue and U.S. 41 location that was due to lock up by this past weekend.

In the Know's new columnist, Phil Fernandez. The photo was shot in Naples Daily News studio Thursday, September, 12, 2019.

"They are closing their doors forever," Taylor said. "It was tough enough for this old friend when the beautification of Central Avenue eliminated a left turn from Central Avenue into their business, but the inconvenience of not having drive-in accessibility forced the decision to close."

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.