New look for ‘Olde’ Marco draws reactions

Lance Shearer

The Shops of Olde Marco represent one of the last stands of a bygone era when development on the island was less intensive. The proposal to redevelop the Olde Marco Inn caused a stir when it was presented to Marco Island’s Planning Board, with neighbors lining up to take issue with the project.

More:Misconceptions of Olde Marco Inn project driving negativity

Reaction to the plan from the merchants at the Shops of Olde Marco, whose businesses would be leveled and replaced by hotel rooms, at least for the duration of the construction period, and the residents who live adjacent to the hotel property, have been varied, and not always forthcoming.

“I doubt you will get any of the merchants to say much,” said one tenant, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “As you can imagine, you’re going to have a hard time getting anyone to say much – you talk ugly about your landlord, you get evicted.”

Lisa Meurgue, who with her husband owns and operates Bistro Soleil, the French fine dining restaurant within the original hotel building, but does not own the real estate, said, “I’m just keeping my head down and running my restaurant. We don’t know what will happen.”

The Shops of Olde Marco have been a hidden jewel on the island, hidden away and out of the mainstream. Area merchants and residents have mixed reactions to the news of the redevelopment plans for the Olde Marco Inn and surrounding shops.

“They’re not telling us much, except they’re going to tear the shops down,” said Miranda Skinner, who owns and operates Miranda’s Hair World in the small, quaint complex. “I don’t like it, but it’s going to happen. They had a meeting with the residential neighbors, but never took a minute to tell the merchants.

“They told me they’ll give me five months’ notice. I have a lease for a year and a half.”

“People around here are not happy,” said Betty Newman, whose art gallery is upstairs at the Shops, along with several other artists. “I have no idea where we’ll go, or if they would have room for us when they’re done.

“Homeowners are concerned people will be looking into their condos, and for the traffic. I’m sure it’s going to take a couple of years, but I really have no idea. They don’t have permits yet.”

One of those homeowners, John Liimatta of the Villas of Marco immediately adjacent to the complex, who spoke against the project at the planning board meeting, said he is against the project, and based his objection to the request for a zoning change.

“I am against increasing density. It doesn’t have anything to do with our property,” he said, saying the island is already too crowded. “I don’t think the rules should be changed now.” The Villa de Marco East condos had their 50-year anniversary planned, only to have it upset by Hurricane Irma.

Existing hotel areas would remain in the new scheme. Area merchants and residents have mixed reactions to the news of the redevelopment plans for the Olde Marco Inn and surrounding shops.

Jim Baumann, president of the Villa de Marco East board of directors, echoed the zoning and density argument.

“If zoning has been in place for the Village of Old Marco, and density has been set by the city, there’s no reason to change it,” he said. “For Villa de Marco, our concerns are noise, security, and parking, plus the size of the four-story complex overlooking our two-story complex.”

Nora Halimi, the proprietor of Bijoux, a giftshop with clothing, hats and accessories at the Shops of Olde Marco, expressed strong support for the new scheme.

“I’m very excited for the upcoming plans for the hotel and shops together,” she said. “Both hotel and shops have been in need of restoration for quite some time. I like that it’s going to be a brand-new property, yet still have that Old Marco charm, but with a brand new look.

“Not everyone is happy – it’s nice the way it is, but outdated,” she said. “People can’t see the big picture, but that property is going to be beautiful once it’s finished, with so much more to offer.”

Max Allard, director of business development for Allard Ventures Group, the landlord and prospective developer, said that he believes their proposal will be a win-win for the island.

“This is an important building to the island, and to us. The feel of old Marco is something we also value, he said, saying without major renovation, the hotel was not viable for the long term. 

The Cafe de Marco would remain under the new scheme. Area merchants and residents have mixed reactions to the news of the redevelopment plans for the Olde Marco Inn and surrounding shops.

“Walk through the inn, you feel the floors buckling. The whole second floor is unusable. We want to make it something Marco Island residents will be proud of, and sustainable for the future.”

Allard, whose father John is the principal of the firm, noted their family roots to the area.

“My great grandfather had property on Isles of Capri in the ’70s. My grandfather bought on Marco in the ’80s. I live on the island. We are part of the community.”

Allard said within about a week, they would be opening an office at the Shops of Olde Marco in the space formerly occupied by Mermaid Blues, and available to address concerns by tenants and neighbors. “I’ll be there almost every day.”