First element of Rosario Resort sale closes this week - Salish Current
April 12, 2024
First element of Rosario Resort sale closes this week
Toby Cooper

Robert Moran built his Rosario estate in 1906 after being told by doctors he had only months to live; he lived another three decades and credited his longevity to his Orcas Island home. An undated photo by an unknown photographer shows the original construction, which since 1960 has become a resort and spa. (UW Libraries)

April 12, 2024
First element of Rosario Resort sale closes this week
Toby Cooper

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Empower Investing, an Orcas-based real estate specialty firm and syndicator, closed April 8 on the first of a series of transactions to purchase Rosario Resort and Spa (read “Orcas Island’s Rosario Resort sale to close Feb. 29,” Salish Current , Feb. 13, 2024).

Empower founder and Orcas Island resident Chris Robison confirmed the transaction with other closings scheduled over the next several weeks. Robison said the combined sales price would be approximately $20 million if coverage of near-term property maintenance and planned upgrades were included. 

“As a beloved landmark with roots deeply embedded in the Orcas Island community, the Rosario estate holds sentimental value for many people, both tourists and residents alike,” said Kevin Ranker, a partner in the Gudgell Group, also based on Orcas, who is representing Empower in the transactions. [Ed.: Disclosure: Kevin Ranker recently served on the board of directors of Salish Current.]

Rosario was originally built in 1906 as the palatial estate of Seattle shipbuilder Robert Moran following a medical diagnosis that gave him “months” to live, according to former resort general manager Christopher Peacock’s published history. 

Moran defied the medical prognosis and lived at Rosario for another three decades. 

“Thirty-one years ago, I left the shipbuilding business in Seattle,” Peacock quotes Moran from 1937. “I was a nervous wreck. The doctors had me ticketed for Lake View Cemetery — due, as they said then, to organic heart disease.” 

Moran shaped his life at Rosario around his love of music and peaceful coexistence with nature, seemingly attributing his longevity to what Rosario came to be. “If Rosario is sold, the new owner will get from it what it gave me,” he wrote, calling his home a “haven of rest and long life.” 

More details pending

Rosario’s third owner, Gilbert H. Geiser — former mayor of Montlake Terrace — purchased the property for $225,000 and opened as Rosario Resort in June of 1960, according to Peacock’s account.

Amy Nesler of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau appreciates Rosario’s unique contribution to Orcas Island’s tourist landscape and said she feels “hopeful that as Rosario Resort undergoes this transition, the legacy of Robert Moran — slowing down and connecting to nature — will remain. Travelers are attracted to the San Juan Islands for this very reason — a chance to unplug and soak in the serenity of island time.”

Peacock, after 29 years as director of marketing and entertainment and 15 as general manager, hands the reins to Robison’s incoming team with a “heavy heart” and offers thanks to now-former resort owner Jerry Barto “and all the previous owners for entrusting me to care for this beautiful and historic property. It is an icon of the Pacific Northwest.” 

Empower’s Robison steps into his general partner role as an entrepreneur with the backing of multiple limited partners. 

“The April closing was for the core resort property — the mansion and the marina,” he said, and subsequent closings in the next several weeks will include the hillside condo properties, employee housing and intangibles such as water rights.

According to Robison, Rosario is being transacted as an “asset sale,” a term for the transfer of tangible and intangible assets without shareholder equity. Employment contracts of most employees are generally not included in an asset sale.

Robison acknowledges he has little direct experience in hospitality but said he has secured advisors with appropriate expertise. The ballpark $20 million front-end cost is not the largest in company history, but “carries the most complexity,” Robison said.

Empower will begin immediate operations of lodging, the marina, weddings and the event center with new reservations being accepted now.

The Empower group has the 2007 county council-approved Rosario Master Plan in hand, but specifics for upgrades are not being released at this time. 

“We are sensitive to the culture of the islands,” he said, with a nod to Moran’s celebrated legacy. “The goal is not to bring Cancun to Orcas.”

— By Toby Cooper

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