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No Trading Floor? No Problem. A Financial Firm Quarantines at the Four Seasons.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Ah, to be quarantined inside a luxury beachfront hotel. Ocean views. Poolside cabanas. A makeshift financial trading floor.

When Citadel Securities, a sibling to the hedge fund company Citadel, decided to isolate a team of stock traders to keep business humming during the coronavirus pandemic, the firm’s billionaire founder, Kenneth Griffin, secured sumptuous Florida quarters: the Four Seasons hotel in Palm Beach.

The firm booked the hotel for New York and Chicago traders just before Palm Beach County put a hold on March 26 on new hotel reservations, and it began operations there on March 30. A few days later, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order across Florida.

The resort is guarded by off-duty officers from the Palm Beach Police Department who are hired by Citadel Securities. No one other than employees for the firm or the hotel is allowed inside. Mr. Griffin, a prominent political donor and top contributor to Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, owns property nearby and is not staying at the hotel.

Local and state orders require social distancing and the closure of nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Yet officials in the town of Palm Beach say the unusual arrangement at the Four Seasons is not in violation of public health rules because Citadel Securities is the hotel’s only tenant.

The town is treating the property as a private residence where people inside can work — or swim in the pool — as they would in any home, said Michael Ogrodnick, a Palm Beach spokesman.

“As far as we’re concerned, they’re in their own bubble,” Mr. Ogrodnick said.

In a memo Citadel Securities sent to employees on April 1, the firm described setting up the Palm Beach site from scratch in less than a week. The location can accommodate up to 50 employees if needed, the memo said.

“Consistent with our position as one of the largest market makers globally, we believe this business continuity decision is prudent to continue providing liquidity to our retail and institutional clients,” Zia Ahmed, a spokesman for Citadel Securities, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The firm’s effort to continue its work has some neighbors questioning the wisdom of allowing a few dozen employees from its New York and Chicago offices — as well as some of their families — to stay at a staffed hotel while similar properties have been forced to close.

David Kamp, who lives across the street from the Four Seasons, said it was difficult not to think about the contradiction between the traders working at a five-star resort and people unable to ride out the pandemic in similar comfort. Citadel Securities, which is separate from Citadel, Mr. Griffin’s hedge fund, has also moved traders to its office in Greenwich, Conn., another wealthy community.

“It is disheartening to know that this is underway while observing at the corner a public bus idling at its stop, empty of passengers less fortunate than traders,” said Mr. Kamp, the founding partner of a landscape architecture firm.

The town on Tuesday posted on its website that it had received “several messages of concern” regarding Citadel Securities’ presence at the Four Seasons after Bloomberg and later The Miami Herald reported about the firm’s temporary Palm Beach trading site.

“We have responded recently to the Four Seasons for several Violation of Town Ordinance complaints, but to date have not observed a citable violation,” the post said.

With Palm Beach County beaches closed, orange cones on the sand delineate the hotel’s property. Over the weekend, guests played tennis on the resort’s immaculate green clay courts. At one point, music could be heard blaring from the resort.

The hotel is offering “reduced services” to its guests, Laurie Herrick, a Four Seasons spokeswoman, said in a statement. Restaurants are closed, though takeout and in-room dining options are available.

“We have undertaken additional and extensive precautionary measures to ensure the health, safety and well-being of everyone at the resort,” she said, adding that hotel staff members have been trained on social-distancing measures to reduce face-to-face interactions.

Normally, Palm Beach would be preparing for the end of the winter social season, which in recent years has featured an Easter golfing trip by President Trump. This year, there will be no motorcade, no big Passover dinners and no Easter brunches.

Palm Beach County, with its robust population of snowbirds and New York regulars, has recorded at least 64 deaths from Covid-19, more than any other county in Florida, which has more than 14,700 confirmed coronavirus cases. Two people have died in the town of Palm Beach.

Mr. DeSantis announced on Tuesday the opening of a second drive-through testing site operated in conjunction with the Florida National Guard. Testing in Palm Beach lags behind other counties; it is unclear if Citadel Securities traders at the Four Seasons or the hotel staff have been tested.

Mr. Griffin, a 51-year-old Daytona Beach native who grew up in Boca Raton, donated nearly $6 million to Mr. DeSantis’s campaign in 2018. Listed by Forbes as the richest person in Illinois, he was the biggest donor to that state’s former Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and offered him the free use of his private plane during the campaign.

In the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Griffin backed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, and then donated to Mr. Trump’s inauguration. He has had an unofficial relationship advising Vice President Mike Pence on economic and business issues and has appeared in executive White House briefings and calls.

Mr. Griffin’s Four Seasons arrangement inspired Jeff Greene, a billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor who owns the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa next door to the Four Seasons. He fired off emails to his contacts in the financial industry offering hotel rooms for alternate trading sites of their own.

“I sent them all emails saying, ‘I have a hotel right next door. Could you use a trading floor?’” Mr. Greene said. “And they said, ‘No, I have it covered.’”

Only six or seven rooms at the Tideline have guests, now that hotels can accept new reservations only from workers deemed critical in the pandemic.

“No restaurant. No spa. No pool. No beach,” Mr. Greene said. “It’s a limited paradise.”

Julia Echikson reported from Palm Beach, Fla., and Patricia Mazzei from Miami. Kate Kelly contributed reporting from New York.


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