Misconceptions of Olde Marco Inn project driving negativity
From a large number of people that turned out for its neighborhood meeting to those that attended this month’s Marco Island Planning Board to voice their opinion, it was apparent that many people cared about the future of the Olde Marco Inn.
The vast majority of comments directed toward the Planning Board centered around the perception that rezoning the property to add an additional wing would adversely impact residents. The hotel’s ownership group, however, are looking to set the record straight as it believes misconceptions about the intent of the upgrades and the overall scope of the project are driving negativity.
“I don’t really think that the use is going to change,” Development Manager Max Allard said. “I don’t really think that the look and feel are going to change. You’re going to recognize it as the Olde Marco Inn.”
The project’s preliminary plans including raising the hotel, built in 1883, to current FEMA flood level heights and building a new wing that will house 41 additional units after demolishing existing commercial structures.
Plans also call for a pool and deck area, where some of the businesses in the Shops of Olde Marco will be relocated, as well as a new restaurant with a capacity of 282 indoor and outdoor guests.
If the project can successfully navigate the City Council and permitting processes, the goal is to begin construction towards the end of this year or the beginning of next year with total construction time estimated at a year-and-a-half.
Although the Allard Family acquired the property less than a decade ago, it has felt there was a need to invest and improve the property for some time.
Damage from Hurricane Irma worsened problems and with the Olde Inn building constructed on tree trunks, the floors are buckling, making it even more uninhabitable.
Allard shared in the love many people have expressed about walking to Shops of Olde Marco but with termite damage, leaks and other structural issues, leaving the building as is was just not sustainable.
Looking to maintain the ambiance, the new proposal is to replicate that feeling, just in a different location on the property, which will remain accessible to everyone.
“All of that is going to be replicated over where the old inn side is,” Allard said. “It’s newer and more sustainable.”
Along with concerns about the perceived changes to the character of that part of Marco Island, residents at the neighborhood meeting and Planning Board also spoke about security, traffic, privacy and noise issues from the hotel.
Allard addressed the security issues by stating that a wall will be put up so that the only way to access nearby condominium complexes is from their own gates. The hotel will also have security on-site full-time if the new wing is approved.
With respect to the proposed wing, Allard said that the building for the new rooms is actually smaller than the other hotel room structures that will remain. Replacing the Shops of Olde Marco with hotel use would also reduce traffic and noise because they are less intensive, Allard said.
One of the other misconceptions that Allard wanted to clear up was that the owners were looking to sneak the hotel project by its neighbors.
Allard said while the hotel’s rezoning application was submitted in August, it wasn't until the second week of December that it heard back from the city that their application would appear on the Jan. 4 Planning Board agenda. With such little in-between, Allard said they wanted and decided to hold a neighborhood meeting to announce the plans.
At that Planning Board meeting, the owners’ representative, Bob Mulhere, requested a continuance so that they could address concerns of residents and neighbors.
“The feedback we got from them was that we were trying to slide this by them at a time when a lot of people weren’t here,” Allard said. “Our own HOA president asked us if we would continue the hearing so that they could have more time to discuss it with us. We wanted to be upfront and honest about our plans.”
As part of its attempts to be transparent about the proposed project, a development office will be opened on the property where anyone with questions or concerns can meet with Allard face-to-face.
“Any neighbors, any residents, anybody on the island are welcome to come in and talk about the project or their concerns,” Allard said.
Allard conceded that there were going to be naysayers opposed to any type of development, but for those that considered the merits of the project, it could be a “win-win” scenario.
With the property having a number of people that rent their condominiums out, Allard expected that the Olde Marco Inn condominiums would increase both in value and rental income as a result of the common area improvements.
Limited parking, a problem not unique to many areas on Marco Island, could also gain some respite due to the hotel looking to add spaces well-above the zoning requirements.
“In our plans, we’re adding an abundance of parking, which is over the threshold of what we needed zoning-wise,” Allard said. “We think we can alleviate some of the problems like parking in the swales and it can be a benefit to everybody.”
For those that like the feel of the property, Allard said the changes will add another 50 years to its life.
Unlike other lodging establishments in the area, Allard also emphasized that the venture was not like them in the sense that his family is rooted here and has no plans to flip the property if its plans are approved.
From his grandparents that bought a home in Isles of Capri to his parents coming to Marco Island in the early 1980s, they’re looking to maintain the connection that they grew to love by reinvesting in the property.
“Marco is a huge part of our lives,” Allard said. “It’s a second home for most of us and first home to some of us.”