- October 18, 2022
The destruction and subsequent aftermath of Hurricane Ian has nearly pushed longtime hospitality executive Robert Boykin to the brink.
For one, damage to three properties his firm owns and operates in the Fort Myers Beach area is north of $50 million. That includes primarily the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina. The Fort Myers Beach staple opened in 1950 with a single cottage and has grown into a 12-acre resort with 195 condo-style villas, all with beach views and a full-service marina and spa. Next is the renovation work. It’s complex and grueling, and will cost well into the millions. (Some will be covered by insurance — but not all of it.)
There’s also the people side in the larger Southwest Florida community. Like the memory of seeing a group of 40 displaced residents, mostly elderly, gathered at the foot of a destroyed bridge as if “there was a bombing,” Boykin says. And then there’s the employee side, given 195 people were laid off Oct. 14. “The hardest part has been the layoffs,” says Boykin, who, at 73 years old, notes Ian is hurricane No. 7.
Boykin is obviously not alone: hundreds of Southwest Florida businesses are grappling with a boatload of uncertainty as the post-Ian rebuild creeps into its second month. More devastating? Around 125 people across three states died in the storm.
Yet speaking a few days after Halloween, Boykin is undaunted and, even amid looming obstacles, excited about what a new Pink Shell will look like. He plans to reopen some of the Pink Shell before or around Thanksgiving, to serve as temporary housing for relief workers, including FEMA staff. And a larger renovation — “Fort Myers Beach will come back strong and the Pink Shell will lead the way,” he says— is forthcoming. Boykin predicts the resort will be back in business by 2024.
“If you have the vision you can come back, then the sun will come out,” Boykin says. “You have to keep that perspective.”
To maintain that perspective, Boykin has been repeating a famous line from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that’s become a mantra of sorts: “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
Boykin has been involved in owning and operating the Pink Shell, at 275 Estero Blvd. on the tip of Estero Island, since 1998, first in a Real Estate Investment Trust. Cornelius, North Carolina-based Boykin Management Co., which Robert founded with his brother, John Boykin, has owned the Pink Shell outright since 2006.
Like many veterans of past hurricanes, Boykin says Ian was the worst, by far, he’s ever been through. While the Pink Shell didn’t sustain structural damage, there was significant damage to the ground floor and second level including the lobby, restaurants and bars (Rae’s and Bongos), as well as the marina.
The process to get the Pink Shell going again has, to some extent, been one of assessment and hurry-up and wait forward movement, with progress counted in small wins. The company hired an industrial hygienist and a building envelope specialist, in addition to Gilbane Restoration Service, a unit of Providence, Rhode Island construction giant Gilbane, to oversee the process. A Gilbane Restoration team is working with some remaining Pink Shell employees on the renovation.
As of Nov. 3, full power had yet to be restored to the property. Generators were the main power source. Even with that, the Pink Shell’s 10 elevators remained out of service. “Every week I think it’s going to be the next week,” for full power, Boykin says, “and then it just slides.”
Boykin says his company is covered for $50 million in insurance losses for the Pink Shell, the Sandpiper Gulf Resort, also on Fort Myers Beach and a Best Western in Fort Myers. “We will go well beyond that by tens of millions” he says, while adding it’s too soon to put an exact dollar figure on the total damage.
The renovations will cost millions more — not including a $7 million room renovation project underway prior to Ian. Again, dipping into his sunnyside perspective, Boykin says the post-Ian renovation project “is a chance to look at the property and say ‘what can we do to change things?”
A month out from Ian, hotel officials weren't sure on specific changes, save for promising, in a statement, that the giant octopus that was a highlight of the swimming pool will return. As will the marina and the restaurants, in some form.
Boykin says his “why” he keeps at the forefront of any renovation decision is the company’s mission: to make memories. The Pink Shell normally hosts at least 100 weddings a year, which leads to family reunions and other get-togethers. “We are in the business of making memories and moments for people,” Boykin says. “As we build back, we will look at what we can do to make this an even better place to create memories.”