The city of Bonita Springs is hoping a historic property can invigorate the downtown area.
The city has been working to get the Shangri-La Hotel & Resort on Old 41 Road open for business.
A representative for the property said the 87-year-old resort could open soon — featuring a gift shop, tours and hosting events. The Shangri-La may host a Christmas event, which is expected to be discussed Wednesday by City Council.
"It's not going to be a functional resort but we are trying with the city's help to get it open at the earliest possible time," said Allison DeFoor, who represents the current owners, the Lama Hana trust.
In September 2006, the Lama Hana trust — led by Naples residents Heather Burch and Addison Fischer — announced their intent to return the Shangri-La to its five-star status as a completely natural spa on the 8-acre facility. This came after the trust purchased the property in 1998, and the identity of the owners and their purpose for the property remained a mystery.
The Shangri-La originally opened in 1924 around the natural springs that give Bonita its name. The resort was a landmark destination downtown, hosting celebrities like Buddy Hackett, but fell on rough times when new ownership took over and closed in 1993. During its heyday, Burch was a regular visitor to the resort, which played a significant role in Lama Hana's decision to purchase the historic property.
"The vibes are extremely positive," DeFoor said about the city's effort to stimulate the opening. "The city manager has been a breath of fresh air and the city council has been extremely supportive of getting this started."
Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson said the plan to do a "soft opening" of the property, which he said would be Dec. 21, took "a lot of work," but it will be worth it for people to be allowed to see the landmark.
"It's great that it will finally be open to the public. ... For the city, it's a great sign. And it is a sign of confidence on (the trust's) part, too," he said.
Nelson said the property has long been a curiosity for people who pass the closed gates on Old 41. He said he was pleased the city and the trust could work in partnership to give the public a peek inside.
Carl Schwing, Bonita Springs' City Manager, said the Shangri-La, which is at the intersection of Kentucky Avenue and Old 41 Road just north of Bonita Beach Road, has been his radar since interviewing for the post last year.
"I drove by and said 'Wow." What is that? What happened to it?" Schwing said. "What a great anchor this will be for the downtown area."
Schwing said the reopening of the Shangri-La could jump-start a stagnant downtown corridor along Old 41 Road. The area has lacked a catalyst to bring back traffic and businesses.
Schwing showed his commitment by assigning Arleen Sheehan — the city's director of development services — as an advocate to get the resort back open. Sheehan met with Shangri-La officials Tuesday about the upcoming Christmas event.
"They've kept it up and it's in excellent shape," Schwing said. "We believe it could spur revitalization of this area."
DeFoor said the ultimate goal of the Lama Hana trust is to get the Shangri-La open as a fully functional five-star resort. He said the group is still seeking a business partner to help run the day-to-day operations of the hotel. In the past year, the Shangri-La was vandalized by teens but DeFoor said the damage was minimal.
Four years ago, the owners started an effort to make resort organic — complete with a garden to supply a restaurant. Despite the tough economic times, DeFoor said the owners are financially secure and determined to restore the resort.
"They are not in a hurry and they are committed," DeFoor said of the Shangri-La owners. "These guys have a great deal of patience."