Shangri-La resort's request to close adjacent streets upsets Bonita merchants

Lexey Swall/Staff 
 Betty Lawrence, center, a bus driver for A&S Transportation, wipes down the mirrors of her bus before heading out to pick up children at Bonita Springs Charter School on Friday afternoon. A&S Transportation is located on Industrial Street in Bonita Springs and uses industrial and Tennessee streets as part of their route. The owners of the historic Shangri-La Hotel and Resort want to shut down a portion of Industrial and Tennessee streets, which intersect behind the Shangri-La property, preventing through traffic between Old 41 and Bonita Beach roads. If approved, the road closures would cause longer and unsafe routes for A&S Transportation - forcing the buses on to Bonita Beach Road causing a back-up of traffic at a railroad crossing west of Industrial Street.

Lexey Swall/Staff Betty Lawrence, center, a bus driver for A&S Transportation, wipes down the mirrors of her bus before heading out to pick up children at Bonita Springs Charter School on Friday afternoon. A&S Transportation is located on Industrial Street in Bonita Springs and uses industrial and Tennessee streets as part of their route. The owners of the historic Shangri-La Hotel and Resort want to shut down a portion of Industrial and Tennessee streets, which intersect behind the Shangri-La property, preventing through traffic between Old 41 and Bonita Beach roads. If approved, the road closures would cause longer and unsafe routes for A&S Transportation - forcing the buses on to Bonita Beach Road causing a back-up of traffic at a railroad crossing west of Industrial Street.

— The owners of the historic Shangri-La Hotel and Resort in Bonita Springs want to close a portion of Industrial and Tennessee streets to develop their property, a move that would eliminate a shortcut connecting Old 41 and Bonita Beach roads.

The request has business owners along the streets concerned about losing business if the streets are closed north and west of the hotel.

Michael Bondarenko, the owner of A&S Transportation, worries about having to reroute 15 charter school buses to Bonita Beach Road.

"It would be catastrophic," Bondarenko said.

In January, Shangri-La trustee J. Stephen Crawford submitted a right of way release application to the city of Bonita Springs, requesting to vacate a portion of Industrial and Tennessee streets, which cut through the resort's property. The application isn't complete yet and there still are items pending, said Jennifer Duffala Hagen, a Bonita Springs city planner.

In 1999, the Shangri-La submitted an application to vacate a small portion of nearby Front Street. The Front Street request is up for consideration as part of the new application, Duffala Hagen said.

If approved, this change would mean that about a half-block of Industrial Street would be closed to the public and another nearly half-block of Tennessee Street would close.

Once the property acquires all documentation needed, the Shangri-La's request to vacate has to go to a public hearing and be approved by City Council.

This isn't the first time Shangri-La operators submitted a petition to vacate these streets. However, prior to a previously scheduled public hearing, they withdrew the petitions, City Attorney Audrey Vance said.

In the future, the Shangri-La wants to expand.

"They are looking to expand the uses of the existing hotel and better utilize that property to offer future potential places of assembly," said Duffala Hagen, citing examples of a conference center and meeting space.

Crawford declined to comment.

The owners want to add more "healing space" for the spa to the south of the hotel, said Allison DeFoor, an attorney for the Shangri-La who represents the current owners, the Lama Hanna Trust. The additional space could be used for yoga, DeFoor added.

The Shangri-La has reached out to neighbors who have expressed concerns about the petition to close the streets, DeFoor said.

Currently, the A&S Transportation buses turn north at Industrial Street toward Tennessee Street, turn at Tennessee Street where the road curves, and then take a left on Old 41 Road to get to schools.

If the petition is granted, the only other way the buses would get out is driving south on Industrial Street toward Bonita Beach Road, then making a U-turn on Bonita Beach Road to reach the intersection of Bonita Beach and Old 41 roads.

"It's extremely unsafe for traffic and the buses," said Bondarenko, who has been in business for six years.

Moreover, the buses would cause a traffic backup on Bonita Beach Road, Bondarenko added.

"It would be a disaster," he said.

The historic resort in downtown Bonita Springs opened in 1924 and later closed, then was purchased by the Lama Hanna trust in 1998. Since then, it has remained closed to the public except for an organic food seminar held at the property in 2003.

Then in December, the Shangri-La Inn Resort and Spa reopened as the Shangri-La Healing Waters Spa/Hotel, for reunions, conferences and weekend events.

While business is resuming at the Shangri-La, neighboring merchants are concerned about what this request means to them.

Bob Moore, who has been in business for nearly 41 years operating B & L Auto Repair, 27880 Industrial St., is concerned about losing customers if the streets close.

About 90 percent of the auto repair customers use those streets, Moore said.

"It's cutting into our livelihood," Moore said. "There is a lot of traffic coming down the street."

Nearby, certified public accountant Marybeth Anderst echoed Moore's concerns.

"To me, it's self-centered to all of the sudden (say) now you want the road," said Anderst, who has been operating her accounting office for 10 years at 27771 Tennessee St. "I tell you that is pretty self-serving."

Although Anderst isn't concerned about losing business, she said it's a plus for her clients to have access to both roads.

Anderst said she doesn't see a legitimate business need to have the two roads vacated because Shangri-La customers wouldn't have a need to go the hotel's administrative building.

"I think it's a cool, historic building and I would love to see it open to the public, but I don't feel it will be successful as a resort and spa because it is outdated and there are too many other options," she said.

__ Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/

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