Former Versace mansion in Florida sells for $52 million

MIAMI - The posh US seaside villa where Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace lived and was murdered in 1997 sold Tuesday for US$41.5 million (S$52 million).

The fully furnished Miami Beach property went to VM South Beach LLC, a group led by investor Joe Nakash, one of three bidders.

Rival offers were made by Eric Trump, the son of real estate tycoon Donald Trump, and Glenn Straub, owner of the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. Bidding for the villa, which is called Casa Casuarina and has 10 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms, started at $25 million.

"The auction of this iconic South Florida villa closed at 41.5 million dollars, which was the last price offered by VM South Beach LLC. We think is a very good deal and we are happy with it," said Lamar Fisher, president of Fisher Auction Company.

Versace, then 50, was shot to death outside the palm-fringed Mediterranean-style mansion on July 15, 1997, by Andrew Cunanan, a gay prostitute who had been on a three-month killing spree.

The auction lasted less than 20 minutes in the mansion's swimming pool area on 1116 Ocean Drive, as reporters covering the event were kept outside.

The villa will be turned into a hotel, said Eli Gindi, another member of the VM South Beach LLC group.

Nakash and Gindi already own the Victor Hotel, an art deco building next door to the Versace mansion.

The idea is to expand the Victor to create one big hotel complex with the Versace villa and ask the Versace family for permission to use their name, as a way to honour the dead designer, Nakash said.

The Versace villa was built in 1930 by architect and philanthropist Alden Freeman. He wanted to pay tribute to the oldest home in the western hemisphere, built in 1510 in what is now the Dominican Republic, by Diego Colon, a son of Christopher Columbus. His name in Spanish was Cristobal Colon.

Gianni Versace bought the home in 1992 for US$2.9 million.

The Versace family got rid of it after his killing, selling it in 2000 to Peter Loftin for US$19 million.

He put it up for sale last year for US$125 million. No buyers emerged, and he eventually lowered it to US$75 million before finally deciding to auction it off.