305From the Baseline to the Bottom Line
- Aug 3, 2007(Yes, bumper stickers sound like a good idea.)
From the New York Times, Sunday, July 29, 2007, Sports section page 3
FROM THE BASELINE TO THE BOTTOM LINE
By Bloomberg News
When Andre Agassi played professional tennis, he was careful to not
do anything that could risk injury.
"I wasn't allowed to go off a diving board," he said.
Since retiring in 2006, Agassi, 37 has become a risk taker: He
snowboards. He wears a helmet but refuses forearm guards, which are
de rigueur in a sport known for broken wrists.
"He got bitten hard," his wife, Steffi Graf, said of Agassi's
obsession. Graf, who won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, prefers
skiing. They play almost no tennis.
Agassi and Graf, 38, are taking even bigger chances with their money.
A few years ago, they visited western Idaho, a hinterland of cattle
and sagebrush, looking for a place to spend time with their son,
Jaden, 5, and daughter, Jaz, 3.
The couple, whose career tennis winnings exceeded $50 million, not
counting endorsements, bought a house at a new ski resort called
Tamarack in Long Valley. For decades, it was a secluded playground
for the gentry in Boise, 100 miles downriver. Idahoans went to fish
and boat on Big Payette Lake, below mountain ridges that hold snow
long into summer.
Now, Agassi and Graf plan to build a Fairmont hotel there. If all
goes as planned, it will be the first Fairmont with a rock-climbing
wall and a machine that simulates kayaking. There will be a bowling
It will be a condominium hotel, meaning that people will buy the
rooms, use them when they want and let the hotel rent them when they
are not using them. Selling the 224 rooms and 69 penthouses - and 50
private homes on the mountain - is expected to bring in $600 million
for Agassi Graf Development LLC and its partner, Bayview Financial,
LP in Coral Gables, Florida.
The Fairmont Tamarack is part of a hyperactive second career in real
estate and hospitality for Agassi and Graf. Among their other
projects: a luxury vacation development in Costa Rica with Exclusive
Resorts LLC, a string of restaurants with the San Francisco chef
Michael Mina and a joint venture with the high-end furniture maker
In their spare time, Agassi and Graf run foundations. Agassi's opened
a kindergarten through 12th grade public charter school in 2001 in a
rough part of Las Vegas, where Agassi grew up. The singer Elton John
is on the board. Graf's provides psychological help to children who
have been the victims of war and exile.
To hear Agassi and Graf tell it, their business ventures came about
by chance. They said they liked Idaho and decided to build. Agassi
said he and Steve Case, the co-founder of America Online and the
owner of Exclusive Resorts, had too much in common not to do
something together. Agassi and Graf said they always liked Kreiss
furniture and often asked for tweaks to pieces they bought, so they
did their own line.
"It's been a pretty organic process," Agassi said.
Agassi and Graf say they are doing more than putting their
recognizable names on things. Many advertisements for the Fairmont do
not mention them. Agassi and Graf are deep into the details.
The furniture maker Mike Kreiss, a former United States Open tennis
player, said Agassi and Graf pored over fabrics and designs before
coming out with their line of chairs and couches, all chocolate brown
and cream colored, called the Agassi Graf Collection. Her taste runs
toward clean, symmetrical lines. He likes things a little cushier and
textured. "They're excited, disciplined and specific," Kreiss said.
Agassi has been to Costa Rica at least twice to help plan a resort
with Exclusive Resorts.
I'm 15 years removed from sticking my name to stuff," Agassi said. "I
want to be a partner, not a spokesperson."
Agassi and Graf run their companies out of an office on Howard Hughes
Parkway in Las Vegas. Graf, born in Mannheim, in Germany's wooded
south, moved there reluctantly. Her mother and brother went along,
making the place feel more like home.
"Living in Vegas speaks volumes of her love for me," said Agassi,
sitting on the deck at the lodge at Tamarack on a sunny June day. "It
was culture shock."
If Agassi and Graf are half as successful in real estate as they were
in tennis, they will make a fortune. So far, it appears as if they
may have another winner.
They sold their first batch of units in March. Buyers snapped up all
125 in seven hours, paying a total of $140 million. Among them: Matt
Leinart, quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals; and Jose Cruz Jr. of
the San Diego Padres.
As they near middle age, Agassi and Graf seem more willing to take
chances - with their money and their limbs. If they wanted to play it
safe, they could have stayed in tennis as coaches or commentators.
Tamarack, site of their biggest post-tennis project, has yet to build
a single court.
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