VIDEO: Ritz-Carlton 25th birthday: Resorts credited for Naples growth

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The Ritz-Carlton Naples

280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, FL

— Bruce Seigel has worked for the Ritz-Carlton resorts in Naples for five years.

He’s been with the brand for 11 years.

“This town has been transformed by The Ritz-Carlton, Naples,” said Seigel, the director of sales and marketing. “The location has developed and grown with us.”

Some believe The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, which celebrate its 25th birthday on Saturday, was the catalyst for development along Vanderbilt Beach, which is now dotted with luxury homes and high-rises.

When the Ritz opened in 1985, Pelican Bay was undeveloped marshland. Vanderbilt Beach Road was a one-lane road. Naples was known as a sleepy little town, with a year-round population of about 85,000.

“We’ve gone from 80,000 to 350,000, or whatever,” said Mike Reagen, head of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. “The spark plug that really started the growth was the Ritz. ... Really three things have made Naples what it is today: mosquito control, air-conditioning and the development of the Ritz and Pelican Bay.”

The brand attracted affluent visitors who then went on to tell their well-to-do friends, leading to the importation of wealth as those people began purchasing homes to extend their vacations or to relocate here permanently, Reagen said.

“(The Ritz) helped build the character of what we now call Naples,” he said.

Sam Colding isn’t so sure. Collier County’s former property appraiser says the Ritz was a product of Naples growth, not the cause.

“That was the next logical place for development,” he said. “Everything was creeping farther north. I don’t know that (the Ritz) had that much of an impact when you look at the whole. It didn’t have that much bearing on the economy.”

Naples Mayor Bill Barnett disagrees. He was on the Naples City Council when the project was coming online.

“I don’t want to use clichés, but they are really right on here,” he said. “It’s a tremendous asset to the community. I don’t know of any other cities that have two Ritz-Carltons. When you are talking about Naples, it’s very tough to conceptualize it without the Ritz.”

In 2002, a second Ritz-Carlton opened off Vanderbilt Beach Road at Tiburon in North Naples, offering guests of both resorts an opulent private golf club, with a championship course designed by Greg Norman.

“Those of us who have been here 30 years are inclined to say that the boom began when the Ritz-Carlton opened, when the Jetport opened, and when I-75 was completed,” said long-time Naples broker Ross McIntosh, who annually presents a snapshot of local real estate trends. “It was part of a trio of threshold events.”

There is a definite relationship between tourism and real estate, McIntosh said. “There is plenty of evidence that many people who now live here permanently first visited Collier County as Ritz guests,” McIntosh said. “Certainly, the Ritz-Carlton set the stage for the high-rises at Bay Colony. It set the tone for that.”

Originally, the Ritz-Carlton offered a golf course for its guests at Pelican Landing in Bonita Springs. The guests who were bused there became some of the first buyers in Bonita Bay, a 2,400-acre gated community that they passed along the way, McIntosh said. Though it’s not yet built out, there are 3,140 homes in Bonita Bay.

The impact the resorts have made on the local economy and the community is hard to ignore.

In 2009 alone, the resorts generated nearly $7 million in local taxes, including $1.9 million in tourist taxes. In Collier County, there’s a 4 percent tax on all hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.

Together, the two resorts have booked more than 2.5 million room nights. In 1985, the starting rate at the Ritz in Naples was $125. Today, a standard guest room starts at $325 a night.

Over the years, both resorts have helped support charity events, such as the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which annually raises millions to help needy children in Collier County. Since 1985, the resorts have given back more than $10 million in donations to “philanthropies near and far,” Seigel said.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., founded in the early 1980s, operated only three other hotels when the first resort in Naples opened. The others were in Boston, Atlanta and Laguna Niguel, Calif. Now, there are 73 hotels in 24 countries and the hotel company operates as a subsidiary of Marriott International.

“From day one, it was our dream to create memories that would live for generations,” said Ed Staros, vice president and managing director of The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples and one of the founding fathers of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. “Our caring, diverse ladies and gentlemen put that philosophy into practice and have become the cornerstone of the resort’s success.

“In 1985, our goal was to open a grand hotel and introduce Fortune 500 companies to the breathtaking beauty of Southwest Florida,” Staros explained.

In its first year, the resort booked 75,000 room nights for business-related travel, he said.

“Once introduced to Naples through conferences, these guests came back as vacation travelers with friends and family,” Staros said.

Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden

Connect with Jonathan Foerster at

www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster

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