Margaritaville fans want to know: Will new resort open on Hurricane Ian's 1st anniversary?
Margaritaville fan Nick Thometz, hopeful that the new Fort Myers Beach resort will “try to make it for opening day” on Hurricane Ian’s first anniversary, had a simple question: “When’s the completion date?”
Before Ian’s catastrophic Sept. 28 strike on Southwest Florida, the 254-unit complex had been sailing toward an end of summer 2023 debut.
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Its path altered by the record-breaking storm, developers TPI Hospitality had suggested on its Facebook page a launch “around the one-year anniversary date of Hurricane Ian."
“We broke ground on the 17th anniversary of (Hurricane) Charley so it would be wonderful to open on the first anniversary of Ian,” Co-CEO Tom Torgerson told me. “We are still pinning down our new schedule due to some material replacements being difficult to obtain in short order. We have overcome a number of critical path schedule items related to material replacement, but still have some challenges looming out there.”
The incomplete structure withstood the historic surge and winds of one of the most powerful tropical cyclones in history, which resulted in at least one less obstacle for Torgerson and the contractors, and leaving the door ever so slightly ajar for an anniversary inception.
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“We did an assessment of the project a couple days after Ian with our engineers and DeAngelis Diamond’s team,” Torgerson said. “As devastating as the scene was at that time, we were pleased with the project’s condition, given the wrath of Ian that was dealt to us. In addition to having an extremely well-engineered building, there exists a seawall along our shoreline, which was extremely effective in breaking down the wave action damages.”
The $200 million Jimmy Buffett-themed venture comes with more than just rooms and suites, such as the concepts of the License to Chill Terrace, the Lah De Dah Bar & Grill and the Coconut Telegraph Coffee Shop, among the venues. That’s a lot to get done by Sept. 28. 2023.
“That would be a very aggressive outcome if we are able to achieve that,” said Torgerson, who with his wife, Mari, and family are among Fort Myers Beach residents also rebuilding their homes. “A personal estimate as to when we will open up, has us doing so towards the end of 2023.
“We love this community and do recognize Margaritaville will be the first new build to open post-Ian. There is responsibility that goes with that. We must be a beacon providing confidence and hope in the new future of Fort Myers Beach. Our prediction is for a dramatic improvement of the island by the time we open end of 2023.”
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While the evolving enterprise has had its critics in the nearly a decade it has hopped over hurdle after hurdle, many in conversations, public meetings and social media appreciate the efforts underway.
“Tom and Mari are working so hard to provide some normalcy, (all) while dealing with their own losses and devastation,” said Wahoo Willie’s bartender Roxanne Jakaitis. “They’ve been side by side with us fighting the good fight, and I’m so grateful for them.”
“There was substantial opposition to the original plan including me,” said resident Gayle Mason O’Neil. “This intelligent developer took the initiative and time to sit down with and listen to those opposed and changed his plans to fit with what we all could live with. We need more willingness to compromise and listen to each other.”
More:7 things to know about Fort Myers Beach's 'functional paradise,' new damage estimates
Torgerson had no hesitation in resuming construction. “None,” he said.
“We feel for the so many that have lost so much, just as our family members have also lost so much. No one on Fort Myers Beach was spared from Ian. We have been boots on the ground ever since the day after the storm, helping in any way we can,” Torgerson said. “We would have loved to open alongside the many businesses that previously existed. However, their absence will not deter people from wanting to come to the resort.
“We are fortunate to be right at the base of the bridge upon arrival to Fort Myers Beach. The immediate area and beach will be pristine in advance of our opening. (Our) prediction is FMB will become the jewel of Southwest Florida in the not-too-distant future. None of us would have wanted it to happen this way, but it did and was out of all of our control.”
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From a marketing perspective, Margaritaville’s arrival also is playing a role in real estate, some of it land that once had homes. Numerous properties flooding the listings tout its coming. Some examples of those doing that:
∎ 0.18-acre Shell Mound Boulevard lot that sold for $485,000 in February is selling for $849,000.∎ A “quick stroll” to Margaritaville, a damaged three-bedroom, two-bath Ohio Avenue home on 0.32 acres goes for $1.8 million.∎ On Palermo Circle, a battered two-bedroom two-bath purchased in 1999 for $130,000 now available for $969,000.∎ And a half-acre beachfront, where two cottages disappeared off I Street, can be picked up for $8 million.
"Property values have grown post-Ian, which is a very good indicator in the confidence of our recovery and future,” said Torgerson, who added his company may also become a buyer when asked about possible expansion or satellite operations. “We will be pursuing other opportunities in the immediate area to complement the initial resort.”
More:Hurricane Ian aftermath: Fort Myers Beach shuffle during recovery 'harder than it has to be'
DiamondHead, Pink Shell, Lani Kai, Lighthouse Island Inn, Best Western
While some other hotels aren't coming back, a few rebuilding ones are making progress.
DiamondHead Beach Resort, a half-mile south of Margaritaville, was phasing in the first of few rooms Wednesday as part of a longer term effort for “displaced residents, first responders, emergency personnel, relief and construction crews assisting in the recovery efforts, as well as those conducting business on or near Fort Myers Beach.” They can be booked through the firstname.lastname@example.org address.
While the pool and beach access aren’t available, food and beverage operations are open, and two elevators work. It said this week it had not determined when it would fully open.
If you don’t mind using stairs, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina was preparing to make 43 guest rooms in its seven-story Captiva Villas building available next week for relief workers, construction personnel, contractors, insurance adjusters and local residents. The half-century-old Pink Shell, on the island's northern end, also has a clearer longer term plan.
“Our main priority is to continue to play our part in supporting relief efforts,” said Robert Boykin, chairman of Boykin Management Company, which owns and operates Pink Shell. “With a long road and a lot of work ahead of us, it is important to recognize the pivotal role we have to play in rebuilding our community.”
It has dining options, but not other amenities, such as beach access and an elevator.
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Rooms are scheduled for availability beginning Monday.
“Plans for a complete renovation of the property are currently in the design stage with the goal of welcoming back guests,” a statement said, “at the end of 2024.”
For the short-term, Interested patrons can email email@example.com, the company said.
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And:Amid Hurricane Ian's devastation on Fort Myers Beach, hope persists to rebuild
Among a few others nearby with updates:
− On Tuesday, the Lighthouse Island Resort Inn and Suites on Fifth Street began accepting reservations for displaced residents, first responders, emergency personnel, relief and construction workers. The few available rooms are located on the second through fourth floors and accessible through stairs, not elevators.
And like in much of the region, it will be noisy as renovations continue, a statement said: "Generators, power washers and electric tools will be run early morning to late evening." Phones aren't operational for employees, who can be reached at the firstname.lastname@example.org address.
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− Just south of Pink Shell, officials for Best Western Plus said they had cancelled all reservations through the end of 2024 and refunded deposits. While there are plans to rebuild, they had not determined when it might return.
− And at the vintage Lani Kai, south of Margaritaville, its operators have cancelled reservations through October 2023 and said they haven't set a time of re-arrival.
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (email@example.com), who grew up in Southwest Florida, writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.