It was the winter of 1981-82 and the vacationing Charlie Rossley was ensconced in a tent on the Caribbean shore in Negril, Jamaica. On a walk through town one day he stumbled across a beat-up resort with two aging cabins and a lodge for sale on a cliff overlooking the sea.

In what he concedes was "the most impulsive thing I've ever done," he tore a piece off a paper bag and wrote an offer for $130,000. Then he hopped on a plane to the Twin Cities and took out second mortgages on two rental properties he owned to finance the deal.

Thus began 25 years of financial challenges and what Rossley calls "blundering circumstance," including a hurricane that destroyed the resort, a con man who took him for six figures and a few personnel problems involving allegations of voodoo spells. Oh, and recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn't help.

The result: Revenue at the Jamaican property, dubbed the Home Sweet Home Resort, has slumped to $50,000 to $70,000 a season in recent years. And he regards the fact that he lost only $5,000 last season as "a pretty good year."

"I didn't know anything about running that kind of business," said Rossley, who keeps body and impulses together by buying, remodeling and renting or selling Twin Cities real estate. "I did no research, I had no business plan, no nothing."

"Basically, I just fell in love with Jamaica," he said.

In short, he agrees with a friend who once told him that "I have no business being in business," Rossley said. That friend, Minneapolis financial accounting consultant Jerry Drewelow, described him as a gent who is "very good at creating things, but not so good at running things."

Nonetheless, Rossley "has done pretty well in spite of himself," Drewelow said, thanks to an ability to "buy properties cheap and develop them cost-effectively."

"A steal!"

Rossley, 58, has been rehabbing housing and commercial properties hereabouts since he was a freshman studying forestry at the University of Minnesota. Today he owns a duplex on St. Paul's Cathedral Hill, a five-bedroom rental property near the University of Minnesota and a retail site on W. Broadway.

He also owns a couple of rental properties and an abandoned sawmill he plans to develop into condominiums in the ocean-front town of Moclips, Wash., another impulse purchase made in 2002 on a trip to the Pacific Northwest.

In all, his properties generate $10,000 a month, enough to keep the resort going and support him and his headquarters, a three-story, five-bedroom Victorian that he's been rehabbing near Lake of the Isles in his spare time for 15 years.

And he might have scored big with the Moclips investment: "It was a former milling town in decline, so I got the properties for tax value," Rossley said. "It was a steal!" But now, real estate developers have discovered the picturesque site and property values have headed skyward.

Given his Jamaican travails of the past 25 years, he had a win coming.

It started well enough: Rossley spent several winters adding a couple of cabins and a duplex to the resort while a Boston travel agency helped keep them full. He barely had finished the expansion, however, when Hurricane Gilbert swept ashore in 1988 and took everything but a concrete-block laundry.

"It was like a huge broom went through the place," Rossley recalled.

It took him three years to rebuild Home Sweet Home, which now includes 14 rooms in three buildings and a swimming pool for those unwilling to take the 30-foot stairway down to the beach.

"By the time I finished I was flat broke and all my properties up here were mortgaged," Rossley said. To save airfare on his returns from Jamaica, he took to flying into Miami and signing up to deliver automobiles into Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In comes the voodoo

The resort made small profits into the 1990s, until Rossley got involved with a scam artist who promised to promote the business but wound up promoting about $100,000 into his own bank account. Then came Sept. 11, which grounded air travel, followed by an economic turndown and more stringent passport requirements.

And then there's the voodoo issue: Rossley's restaurant manager was accused of placing a spell on two other employees, including the resort manager. That forced Rossley to let the restaurant manager go because it would have been harder to replace the general manager.

"I know it doesn't make a lot of business sense to hang onto the place," Rossley said. "But I fell in love with the country and the people."

So he's decided to get businesslike about promoting the resort, starting a newsletter and a blog and hiring technicians to improve its website and optimize its search-engine visibility.

That's a whole lot of technology talk for a guy who couldn't figure out how to check the number of hits on his website

But he's determined to change his ways: "I've always been a big-picture person," Rossley said. "I'm trying to figure out how to be a detail guy."

Dick Youngblood • 612-673-4439 •