- February 26, 2020
When the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club shut its doors last month, the closing was meant to usher in a new era for the famed Collier County resort.
After more than seven decades and three generations, the Watkins family had bid their goodbyes and was preparing to sell the 125-acre property to a Phoenix-based developer of luxury hospitality venues nationwide.
The Athens Group, in the family’s stead, unveiled plans for a $250 million investment that would result in a new 220-room Four Seasons Hotel and as many as 195 condominiums, likely tied to the luxury brand, in a series of four- to seven-story buildings.
“It’s a great match,” says Kent Schwarz, an executive vice president of commercial real estate brokerage firm Colliers, who specializes in lodging and hospitality properties. “The addition of residences there, especially, should add tremendous value.
“Naples is such an affluent area, and Four Seasons seeks to gain positions in those types of markets. And Athens already has a relationship with Four Seasons.”
The new resort, which also is being designed to include a golf course, restaurants and retail space and a host of other high-end amenities, was unanimously approved by the Naples City Council in 2019 — the same year Athens Group contracted to acquire the 319-room Naples Beach Hotel and the surrounding beachfront property.
The Watkins family selected Athens Group after receiving more than 15 proposals to purchase their property.
Athens Group says it hopes to have the initial phase of its new eight-building project completed in 2023.
The revamped resort would be Athens Group’s first Florida project, following developments in Hawaii, California, Arizona, Colorado and Utah, according to its website.
It would also mark one of two new Four Seasons-flagged hotels and residences planned in Florida.
The other, in Jacksonville, would be part of a $440 million development by Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan, containing 176 hotel rooms and 25 residences. That project would debut in 2025.
But for now, at least, the estimated $100 million-plus sale in Naples is on hold, the result of a circuit court lawsuit filed May 27 — just four days after Naples Beach Hotel closed and days before Athens Group was expected to close on the property.
Gregory B. Myers, who bought a house with his wife in 2005 near the existing resort, contends that the new development would interfere with his “reasonable use and enjoyment of the land” — specifically an easement for streets, avenues and driveways that both share.
Myers’ four-count lawsuit also contends that he has a “vested right” to an “unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Plaintiff has never agreed to change or abrogate any of his rights in the easement property,” the lawsuit states.
Myers is seeking a court injunction to prevent Athens Group from proceeding with its project and “an award of costs” associated with his lawsuit, documents show.
Neither Myers nor Athens Group President and CEO Kim Richards responded to inquiries for comment.
Myers’ complaint also says the 18-hole golf course at the Naples Beach Hotel should remain in its present form, though it was redesigned roughly a decade ago as part of an upgrade into a Jack Nicklaus Signature course.
Athens Group has pledged to maintain a golf course as part of its redevelopment.
The company’s association with Four Seasons dates to the early 1990s, when it began work on the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, in Hawaii, an 800-acre project with a 243-room luxury hotel and an initial phase of 41 upscale residences.
There, Japan’s Kajima Corp. retained Athens Group to undertake a redesign of a partially completed resort and develop a low-rise project. The development, completed in late 1996, also contains a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, according to Athens Group’s website.
In all, residential sales there have exceeded $1 billion, and three years after its opening the resort received an Award of Excellence from the Urban Land Institute for “influencing resort developers worldwide” with its balance of the natural environment and the built space.
Today, Four Seasons operates 41 hotels and resorts in the U.S., according to its website. In Florida, the company’s flag adorns four properties, in Orlando, Palm Beach and two in Miami.
There are currently only two new Four Seasons’ hotels in development in the U.S., in Napa Valley, California, and New Orleans. Both are slated to open in the coming months, the website notes.
In Naples, in addition to agreeing to maintain a golf amenity, Athens Group has pledged to accentuate leisure travel by trimming Naples Beach Hotel’s 34,000 square feet of meeting, event and ballroom space in half.
Richards told Naples officials in early 2020 that the company would develop 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. North into “a world-class resort that Naples will be proud to embrace.”
The plans for the Naples Beach Hotel come as other Collier County tourist destinations also are investing for the future.
At the Ritz-Carlton Naples, owner Host Hotels & Resorts Inc. is developing a new 14-story tower with 74 guest suites, adding amenities such as a lap pool, poolside cabanas and an expanded Club Lounge.
The hotel’s lobby, spa and existing rooms also will undergo major upgrades.
At Host Hotels’ Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort Naples, the hotel owner has installed a new 14,000-square-foot water park and related amenities.
Taken together, the capital improvements are the most ambitious in the dual resorts’ 35-year history.
“With the continued challenges wrought by COVID-19 and travel to the Southeast Atlantic islands and elsewhere, Naples looks very appealing for many travelers,” Colliers’ Schwarz says.