Hotel manager pledges to rebuild iconic property from millions in damage caused by Ian | Business Observer
The destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Ian almost pushed longtime hotel manager Robert Boykin to the brink.
For one thing, damage to three properties his company owns and operates in the Fort Myers Beach area totals north of $50 million. This mainly includes 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. Then comes the renovations. It’s complex and grueling, and will cost many millions. (Some will be covered by insurance, but not all.)
There is also the human side to the large Southwest Florida community. Like the memory of having seen a group of 40 displaced inhabitants, mostly elderly people, gathered at the foot of a destroyed bridge as if there were “a bombardment”, says Boykin. And then there’s the employee side, given that 195 people were laid off on October 14. “The hardest part was the layoffs,” says Boykin, who, at 73, notes that Ian is Hurricane No. 7.
Boykin is obviously not alone: Hundreds of Southwest Florida businesses are grappling with a boatload of uncertainty as post-Ian reconstruction enters its second month. More devastating? About 125 people in three states died in the storm.
Yet speaking days after Halloween, Boykin is fearless and, even amid impending odds, excited about what a new Pink Shell will look like. He plans to reopen part of the Pink Shell before or around Thanksgiving, to serve as temporary housing for aid workers, including FEMA personnel. And a bigger renovation — “Fort Myers Beach will come back strong and the Pink Shell will lead the way,” he says — is coming. Boykin predicts the station 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 this perspective, Boykin repeated a famous phrase from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that has become something of a mantra: “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”
Boykin was involved in owning and operating Pink Shell, at 275 Estero Blvd. on the tip of Estero Island, since 1998, first in a Real Estate Investment Trust. Cornelius, North Carolina, Boykin Management Co., which Robert founded with his brother John Boykin, has owned Pink Shell since 2006.
Like many past hurricane veterans, Boykin says Ian was by far the worst he had ever been through. Although the Pink Shell suffered no 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 relaunch the Pink Shell has, to some extent, been an evaluation and a move of haste and expectation, with progress counted in small victories. The company hired an industrial hygienist and building envelope specialist, in addition to Gilbane Restoration Service, a unit of Providence, Rhode Island construction giant Gilbane, to oversee the process. A restoration team from Gilbane is working with some remaining Pink Shell employees on the refurbishment.
As of November 3, full power had not yet been restored to the property. Generators were the main source of energy. Even with that, all 10 Pink Shell elevators remained out of service. “Every week, I think it’s going to be next week,” for full power, Boykin says, “and then it slips.”
Boykin says his company is covered for $50 million in insurance losses for the Pink Shell, the Sandpiper Gulf Resort, also on the beach in Fort Myers, and a Best Western in Fort Myers. “We will go well beyond this figure of tens of millions,” he said, adding that it is too early to quantify the exact amount of damage.
The renovations will cost millions more, not including a $7 million room renovation project underway before Ian. Again, dipping into his sunny 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 away from Ian, hotel officials were unsure of any specific changes, except to promise in a statement that the giant octopus that was a pool highlight would return. So does the marina and restaurants, in one form or another.
Boykin says his “why” that he keeps at the forefront of any renovation decision is the company’s mission: to create memories. The Pink Shell normally hosts at least 100 weddings a year, leading to family reunions and other get-togethers. “We’re in the business of creating memories and moments for people,” Boykin says. “As we rebuild, we’ll look at what we can do to make it an even better place to make memories.”