MARCO ISLAND — Like everyone else, the Marriott wants to be understood. In this case, what they want understood is just what the plans are for the hotel’s proposed redevelopment, to counter what Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa general manager Rick Medwedeff called “rumors and misinformation” he said abounds in the community and the media.
The Marriott held their second “town hall” meeting Wednesday evening in the hotel’s Islands Ballroom, which would be torn down and replaced in the new scheme. Something like 200 Islanders came to hear the presentation, similar to one held in November, including many community leaders. Just like at the first meeting, the City Council had a quorum and theoretically could have held a meeting on the spot, with councilors Larry Sacher, Larry Honig, Ken Honecker, Amadeo Petricca and Bob Brown on hand.
Attendees listened for 45 minutes while Medwedeff and architect Malcolm Berg laid out plans for expanded meeting facilities and additional parking, in addition to other improvements including a rooftop restaurant and adults-only swimming pool.
“We need more pool and pool deck space,” said Medwedeff. “I have this magnificent beach, but people are fighting over deck chairs around the pool.”
Under the new plans, he said, the hotel would expand from 726 to 810 guest rooms, which is allowed under the current PUD. The hotel would need a variance to raise its maximum height to 125 feet, not the 117 feet which had been previously stated, which Medwedeff said was due to plans being solidified as the process moved forward. The current maximum height allowed is 100 feet.
Even at 125 feet, said Medwedeff, the Marriott would be only the 32nd highest building on Marco, and he showed a drawing pointing out that its neighbors to the north and south are both higher.
The neighbors to the east have been a focus of the proposed parking deck, and the source of much of the discontent over the hotel’s plans. Medwedeff and Berg detailed the accommodations they are making for these residents, with the deck set back 33 feet from the property line, behind the typically 10-foot privacy walls, and parapet walls to keep headlights from shining into adjacent property, and provide planters for greenery.
Plantings were a repeated theme, with Berg laying out the plan for the proposed “rain garden” feature, essentially making lemons into fresh-squeezed lemonade, garnished with a little paper umbrella.
“We have to have bio-swales (to catch runoff from rain) and those are glorified pits,” said Berg. He waxed poetic on the subject, tossing out terms like “creating a moment of pause, a moment of beauty, of landscape” along Collier Blvd., with a “lagoon” that will “provide a sense of hide and reveal,” fill up and empty naturally as the rainy season ebbs and flows.
The additional meeting space, which Medwedeff reiterated will not make the Marriott a “convention center,” will increase demand for parking most during the island’s slow summer season, when more visitors arrive in their own cars. That is when, he said, the greatest economic impact from the new facilities will be felt, just when Marco’s businesses can use the boost.
Medwedeff estimated that impact at an incremental $46 million, while the hotel would generate an additional $500,000 in bed tax money which pays for beach renourishment and upkeep and an additional $400,000 in property taxes.
In the Q&A session following the exposition, there were a few questions about semi-trailers servicing exhibitors, which Medwedeff said would be more like three to four, rather than the figure of 100 which had circulated, and the commitment not to build east of Collier Blvd. He responded the hotel had the authorization to build a raised tennis facility, which would be more obtrusive.
Overall, though, the crowd was squarely behind the hotel. Dick Shanahan, on the board of the chamber of commerce and board of realtors, and Jane Watt, along with several others, rose to give testimonials to the Marriott’s good corporate citizenship, and each positive statement drew a round of applause.
A lot must still happen before the first guest lounges by the rooftop pool, but Medwedeff said they hope to break ground after the season ends in 2015, and have the project complete by December, 2016.