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Millionaire Hideaways

Three private-island owners talk about their unique seaside sanctuaries
Carrie Loranger Gaska
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004

(continued from page 3)

Jeff Gram says he was born with the dream of owning an island, but admits that shows like “Gilligan’s Island” fueled his fire. “For me, ‘Gilligan’s Island’—there’s no better. What more do you need than a buddy like Gilligan and Skipper and somebody like Mary Ann, Ginger and Mr. Howell to pay for it,” says the 41-year-old Gram, who owns the three-acre Cayo Espanto in Belize. “I’m more of a cross between Gilligan and the Professor, and when I need something done, I’m the Skipper.”

Gram, who started a mail order company called MM Marketing and sold real estate in the 1980s, opened the five-villa luxury resort off the coast of Belize in 1998 and says since that time, private island ownership has gone from a dream to a passion, while at the same time, it’s very much a business—a business designed to help others live out their own “Gilligan’s Island” fantasies.

“If you give me an island anywhere that I can get diesel fuel [to], you won’t know if you’re on my island or [at] a five-star hotel anywhere in the world, because if you can get fuel, you can have all the luxuries of life and all the communications you need,” he says.

At the moment, feeding his passion is nearly a full-time job. Gram is developing another island off the Belizean coast, a 1,200-acre piece of real estate about 35 miles from Cayo Espanto, and is negotiating the purchase of two islands in the British Virgin Islands and one in the Exuma island chain of the Bahamas.

But Gram admits that building an island—paying for it and writing the check—is the easy part. The hard part is offering the luxury and the service required to attract guests of a certain caliber. “The service is the key,” says Gram, whose villas on Cayo Espanto are all served by a private butler.

Gram’s enthusiasm for private island ownership is contagious. “I’ve had people come visit me that leave the island wanting a place of their own, and they didn’t come here with that in mind,” says Gram.

“There’s several little islands there [in the Exumas] that I’ve just fallen in love with and if I had $3.5 million in each pocket, I could have fun down there. What I’m hoping is that I’m going to get established with this new island [in the Bahamas], get the infrastructure in place, and then I’ll be able to have some of these other people that I know quite well have some of these islands right near mine. We could really have some fun with that,” says Gram.

Cayo Espanto has been a learning experience for Gram. He never thought it would take off as it has with more than 800 visitors a year. In November, the island was featured on “Oprah” and on ABC’s reality television hit “The Bachelor,” which has caused the phones to ring nonstop.

But for now Gram still has one dream unfulfilled: having Gilligan himself visit Cayo Espanto. “I used to travel with pro tennis players as a pseudo-manager, and I used to travel with a lot of celebrities and enjoyed my time with them, but the only autograph I’ve ever asked for is Bob Denver’s. So when I bought my island and opened the resort, I
e-mailed his wife and I offered him a trip to the island. Of course it would be a dream come true for me, but he hasn’t come down yet,” says Gram.


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