Chances are good that if you are staying, shopping or eating in the seaside town of Cape May, N.J., you just might be doing so at a property owned by Curtis Bashaw. That's because Bashaw, the co-managing partner of real estate development group Cape Advisors and Cape Resorts Group, the company that maintains close to 20 properties in the town, has been a guiding force in the transformation of Cape May from a sleepy town at the southernmost tip of New Jersey into a go-to destination for people of all ages.
For Bashaw, success in business is all about two things; having a singular vision to guide you and the passion to follow through on that vision.
"To be an entrepreneur, you have to believe in your vision, sell people on it and be willing to execute on it," Bashaw said. "That often means taking a step that is risky because you don’t know the outcome. When it comes down to it, you are putting everything on the line when you go out to start a business."
That mantra has served Bashaw well, but it is hardly one that he developed on his own. Rather, it was something that was instilled in him by his grandfather, the Rev. Carl McIntire, a minister who became a local legend in Cape May after setting up a religious community in the town in the 1960s. McIntire hosted a radio program that attracted followers to the seaside town and proved to be an influential figure for Bashaw.
"I guess my grandfather wasn’t a businessman per se, but his charisma, his willingness to take that first step and to hold to a vision inspired me," Bashaw said. "It made me not afraid to go for it when I started my business."
Bashaw's own vision began as a teenager when he became struck by Congress Hall, a hotel located in the center of Cape May. In a town known for bed and breakfasts and Victorian homes, the 106-room Congress Hall stands out for much more than its enormity. The hotel originally constructed in 1816 was destroyed by fire in 1878. One year later, the hotel reopened and became a popular destination. Notably, it hosted four presidents during their summer vacations and became the "summer White House" for President Benjamin Harrison, who performed all duties from the hotel during the summer. In 1967, McIntire purchased the building for $350,000.
"Working at Congress Hall as a kid was an idyllic summer experience," Bashaw said. "I remember at night how the moon would cast these shadows on the old hotel. I remember walking to the promenade next to the ocean and thinking it would be lots of fun to fix this up some day."
After graduating from college, Bashaw took his first step toward accomplishing that dream.
"My dad was doing a lot of real estate at the time and said, 'let's do a project together,'" Bashaw said. "We bought the Virginia [another hotel in Cape May] together in 1986 and it took a classic six bank rejections, but we finally got financing with a seventh bank."
Bashaw worked on the renovation of the 24-room hotel on the weekends while also attending the Wharton School of Business during the week. Three years later, the renovated Virginia opened
Cape Resorts GroupCredit: Cape Resorts Group
"Moving into the 1990s, my grandfather's properties had been caught up in the whole savings and loans crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s," Bashaw said. "The properties I had grown up in were on the auction block. I leveraged the reputation of the Virginia and put together a venture group to invest in an acquisition of Congress Hall."
Bashaw was able to use the renovation of the Virginia as a living example of his vision for Congress Hall. With a venture group, Bashaw raised $22 million needed to renovate the run-down building. That renovation included more than 10 miles of piping, 2,000 gallons of paint and 40 miles of wiring.
"The building was closer to 'The Shining' than an actual hotel," Bashaw said. "When we were raising the funds, there were times though that I felt that we were trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. It wasn’t simple, but there is always a value proposition between a product and customer. Our goal then was to say how do we create a value proposition out of this wreck of an old hotel and that was really a fun challenge."
A quarter of a century after Bashaw first dreamed of renovating the hotel as a teenager, it reopened to the public in 2002.
"It was a classic trajectory that was pretty slow with the Virginia, then after Congress Hall opened things went up," Bashaw said. "We added the Star, the Sandpiper and the Beach Shack (in Cape May). We bridged the resort market as well as the more traditional urban real estate development in New York and we are working on some opportunities at the East End of Long Island now."
In 2008, Bashaw also added the Chelsea in Atlantic City. Bashaw and business partner Craig Wood spent $110 million on the renovation of that project, which combined an old Howard Johnson hotel and Holiday Inn into a nongaming hotel.
Today, Bashaw's companies have developed and currently manage more than 30 properties, which include hotels, restaurants, shops, bars and even a farm.
Not surprisingly, Bashaw who has built his career around fixing old hotels, credits old-fashioned values for his business success.
"We've built the business on thrift, industry, hard work and putting off present consumption for future gain," Bashaw said.
At the end of the day, though, it all comes back to vision, passion and most importantly fun for Bashaw.
"At the end of the orientation speech that I give to our new employees, the last two words are 'have fun,'" Bashaw said. "Having fun doesn’t mean it's easy, it doesn’t mean it is just going to happen, but you have to keep the perspective when you are slogging through. You really have to like what you do."