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Hotel owner on Ian recovery: 'It's like playing 3D chess with one eye closed'

Progress is slow, but happening, on Southwest Florida beaches.


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1. The rebuilding process for many Southwest Florida businesses post-Hurricane Ian began to pick up speed at the end of 2022. As of mid-December, for example, 62% of Lee County’s hotel guest rooms had reopened — some 8,900 rooms, according to Visit Fort Myers, the Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau. Many of those rooms were occupied by people helping with and assisting displaced residents, in addition to cleanup and restoration tasks. 

Another good Ian recovery sign for 2023: air service at Southwest Florida International Airport is returning to normal. Eurowings was scheduled to resume Saturday flights from the airport, RSW, to Frankfurt, Germany, Dec. 17 and continue through March, Visit Fort Myers reports. Sun Country Airlines debuted weekly nonstop service from the airport to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on Dec. 19, and Avelo Airlines is scheduled to begin nonstop service to Wilmington, Delaware Feb. 3 and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, on Feb. 16. 

 

2. Progress doesn’t mean recovery will be without its challenges in 2023. Robert Boykin, chairman of Boykin Management Co., which owns and operates the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina on Fort Myers Beach, says the process of organizing and executing the comeback is “like playing 3D chess with one eye closed. It’s a big task.”

The landmark property, on Estero Island, 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. Damage to the Pink Shell, and two other properties the firm owns, was over $50 million, Boykin says. 

The Pink Shell hit a big milestone in late December when it reopened its Captiva Villas building, home to 43 guestrooms and Jack’s Restaurant. The openings will provide accommodations and buffet-style dining for relief workers, construction workers, contractors, insurance adjusters and local residents, the company says. Another key: It brings back 100 employees let go after the storm. The property had 300 employees at its peak before Ian, but Boykin says the return was a positive year-end development. “We just want to be here for the community,” he says. 

 

3. While the comeback is visible and the milestones are nice, Boykin says a return to a full-scale commercial operation probably won’t happen until 2024, or maybe late 2023. One issue is materials and supply chain delays, he says. 

The good news is interest in the Pink Shell is strong. The hotel received a few calls from people looking to book reservations for New Year’s Eve 2022, and others have called to check on reopening progress. 

More validation in the future of the area came in November, when a Chicago developer bought the 27-room Carousel Beach Inn on South Fort Myers Beach for $7 million. The buyer, a subsidiary of the Dublin Real Estate Investment Group, intends to use the property to complete a luxury residential development already under construction. Boykin, who has been involved in owning and operating the Pink Shell since 1998, says he’s heard chatter of other deals in the region as well. It’s one reason — world class beaches help, too — he’s confident Fort Myers Beach will be back better than ever, even if that’s 2024. 

“The sad news is a lot of Old Florida got washed away with Ian,” Boykin says. “But Fort Myers Beach will be back as a premier vacation spot.”

 

author

Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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