Billionaires David and Simon Reuben Spark Another War in Palm Beach With Vineta Hotel

In the land of Chanel, country clubs, and $33 salads, there is never long-lasting peace. Always in Palm Beach, Florida, some faction is accused of taking things too far: a personal estate fit for 10 kings, a $110 million mansion senselessly torn down, and now, a cherished hotel that wants to greatly increase its foot traffic.

Last spring, a company owned by the British billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben, acquired The Chesterfield hotel for $42 million. They soon announced a plan to restore the property’s former name, The Vineta, and submitted a proposal that included increasing the number of dining seats by 74 percent, to 197, multiple residents said.

That plan has many locals up in arms. At stake, they say, is the town’s tranquil identity, as it already struggles to absorb the crowds that descended during the pandemic.

“The Town of Palm Beach is an exclusive, small, island residential community which has far too many cars coming and going every day to be sustainable over time,” said Charles Frankel III, who lives a block north of the Vineta. He emphasized that he has no issue with the hotel’s new owners or management company, simply the scope of their plan.

Other critics were more direct. “It’s another billionaire taking over our town and depriving the residents of peace and quiet,” long-time local Susan Gary told The Daily Beast.

The Vineta’s opponents have written letters to the town council expressing their disfavor, while the Reubens’ supporters have written letters of their own. The council is next scheduled to consider the matter on Wednesday, March 15.

The Reuben brothers’ company did not respond to a request for comment.

The brothers, both in their eighties, made their fortune in the real estate and tech industries. Born in India, they moved to the U.K. as teenagers before beginning their business careers. David reportedly joined a scrap-metal company in 1958, while Simon started working a few years later at a carpet importer. Each is now worth $6.4 billion, Forbes estimates.

The siblings have generally enjoyed a quiet reputation, though they recently made news amid the downfall of art dealer Inigo Philbrick, who had sold them a painting of Pablo Picasso by Rudolf Stingel. The painting’s ownership was contested by multiple entities, including the Reubens, which served as one of several fraud allegations against Phibrick; he absconded to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, though he was eventually arrested in his bathing suit, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

By all appearances, the Vineta acquisition was intended to be a far quieter affair that would comprise a small portion of the brothers’ hospitality portfolio. (They also own hotels in New York, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and elsewhere.)

Palm Beach is “a place very close to my and my family’s heart,” David Reuben’s son Jamie told a local news outlet last fall.

But the reception from some residents hasn’t been equally warm. In a letter to the mayor and council, one 57-year Palm Beach veteran, Sarah Mettler, said the proposed changes “would sabotage our section of town,” arguing that an increase in density would be “disastrous.”

“This is a slippery slope and we must not begin to allow the charm of our island to be ruined,” she wrote.

Another resident, Ellen Kaufmann, wrote that she had no comment on The Vineta’s architectural plans, which were so minutely detailed as if “intended to make it impossible for an ordinary citizen to grasp what is at issue.” But she expressed worry that increasing the number of hotel visitors would ratchet up pressure on valets to drive faster, since they are already responsible for some of the “most egregious speeding” incidents near her home.

Other locals, inversely, wrote in to endorse the Reubens’ project, complimenting the incoming management team as a “a great asset to the community,” as one person wrote. Another chimed in that The Vineta would surely become a “jewel that all of us on this Island will be proud of!”

To Gary, the management’s credentials aren’t relevant to the issues of traffic and congestion, which are worse than ever. New projects, she said, like a renovation of the marina, or even one hotel’s expansion, are exacerbating the problem.

Meanwhile, wealthy East Coasters continue to migrate south, making life harder for those who have been there for years. “No one can get into a restaurant here. That’s the other thing that’s kind of irritating to people,” Gary said. New Yorkers, she added, frequently lock up reservations weeks in advance. “These wise guys have already booked Saturday night for the month,” she said. (Gary herself was born and raised in New York.)

In yet another public letter, one resident summed up the tension between locals and the new visitors and investors: “I fear we are being invaded by people who do not share the same values of those people who founded the town and who have lived here for decades.”

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