New Jersey Mega Millions Winner Buys Damaged Florida Resort

Wednesday November 6th 2019

Richard Wahl, who won the Mega Millions jackpot while living in New Jersey, has bought a hurricane-damaged Florida resort. Wahl, 49, now lives in Sarasota, Florida. He won the $533 million top prize in April 2018.

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In April he bid $13.65 million at auction to buy the damaged resort in Daytona Beach. The La Playa Resort & Suites at 2500 N. Atlantic Avenue is a nine-story, 239-room seaside resort built in 1975.

It was previously purchased by Summit Hospitality in 2016 for $9 million. Unfortunately, only months later Hurricane Matthew seriously damaged the property and it has remained closed ever since.

Attorney Jeff Brock of law firm Smith Bigman Brock, who represented the sellers, said the sale to a recently formed Delaware limited liability company called 2500 North Atlantic Avenue LLC closed on July 1. Wahl is the owner of the corporation.

Wahl reportedly plans to turn the resort into a vacation timeshare. “I don’t know how much due diligence he has done. It will be interesting to see how feasible it is,” said Tim Davis, a realtor with SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors. Davis represented a client who was the second-highest bidder in the auction on April 23 and wanted to repair the resort and run it as a hotel.

Davis visited the property on behalf of his client, and while it seemed to be “relatively dry, it’s extremely outdated. I think it could cost at least $100,000 per unit (or a total of $23.9 million) to renovate.”

However, “it still would be cheaper than building new, which would most likely cost at least $200,000 per room,” he said. “My only caution is [Wahl is] not a traditional hotelier or buyer. He just won the Powerball ... It’s a strange sale.”

“[Wahl] had to invest his money to get the tax credit,” said Bob Davis, CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. “It’s a good piece of property in a good location, but I think that timeshares have had their day. People aren’t investing in timeshares [as much as in the past] because they can’t get out of the contracts. If that’s what he wants to do with his money, God bless him.”

Wahl, who was a food service manager, had just $22 in his pocket when he bought the winning ticket at the Lukoil gas station in Riverdale, New Jersey. Wahl purchased the ticket after a coworker mentioned that he always passed the Mega Millions sign but never bought a ticket.

At the time Wahl claimed his prize, he said he found out that he won on Good Friday and stayed in his house the whole weekend; he put the ticket in a fireproof safe.

Wahl chose the cash amount lump sum payment of $324.6 million, which came to a still very impressive $220.7 million after state and federal taxes.

“We are not the type to run out and spend all the money and have a great time and party it up,” he said at the time. "For us we believe God has a plan ... it's not only life-changing money for me, we want it to be life-changing money for others. Family, friends, people in need." He mentioned that he would be able to help his mother, who had "reduced income." Wahl appears to have moved to Florida later that year.

Wahl's win was the largest-ever prize won in New Jersey, the sixth-largest Mega Millions jackpot and the 10th biggest-ever lottery jackpot.

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