Beach residents both welcome, fear arrival of new mega resort

Prospective location for a new mega resort on St. Augustine Beach.
Prospective location for a new mega resort on St. Augustine Beach.

Prospective location for a new mega resort on St. Augustine Beach.

By Will Sandman |

An abandoned hotel that once was an Anastasia Island staple will soon get new life – but many disagree on what that means for the area.

The former St. Augustine Beachfront Resort, adjacent to the newly opened restaurant Salt Life, closed and was sold to Key International Real Estate last January for around $10 million. Since then, a Miami-based real estate development firm has been working on a concept design to replace the standing hotel.

The concept includes almost 270 rooms and parking spaces. It has garnered praise by St. Augustine Beach Planning and Zoning board members.

The plan, according to Building and Zoning Director Gary Larson, would cost nearly $25 million and will be voted on by the board soon.

The vote now seems to be a formality, with approval looking very likely.

But the project will have lasting effects on the community, according to many locals.

It’s a point of contention between residents and local business owners.  While business owners are anxiously awaiting the tourism boost that will come from the hotel, residents fear that it’s a matter of time before the beach becomes too commercialized.

“It’s not going to be the laid-back beach life that we all came to love when we moved here,”  St. Augustine Beach outsidehotelresident Susan De Knight said.

De Knight said the hotel’s impact on business doesn’t compare to the loss of residents.

“It’ll bring people to the beach, but whether they’re going to spend money on the beach is a different story,” she said.

But business owners are willing to make some sacrifices.

“We survive on the tourism.  I hate to see the quaintness go away, but we need it to survive,” said Cindy Degavos, owner of Oddities, which is located directly across the street from the proposed site.

She said the survival of her business is dependent on the hotel opening its doors.

“I want it to hurry up and open, so that we can survive. I’m gonna hang tight,” Degavos said. “Hopefully, it’ll get done soon, but I don’t know.”

The hotel will result in increased traffic to the stores, but guests at the hotel may prefer to do their shopping elsewhere, either in downtown or at the St. Augustine Outlets, both of which may be preferable.

Larson says that there won’t be much retail development on the island either, citing limited space as the main obstacle.

With the proposed 270 underground parking spaces, parking should not be an issue. Traffic on the island, however, will become an even larger issue than it is already.

Larson said it’s an issue that’s being addressed by local officials.

parkinglot“The city is working with things like trolley systems and bus systems to take people from the beach over to St. Augustine or from the beach to St. Augustine,” he said.

The Sunshine Bus, operated by the Council on Aging, runs a small route along the beach already, but it doesn’t have designated stops, an issue that officials are working to eliminate.

Many locals, however, feel excluded by officials.  Degavos said that she not only felt left out of the proposal, but, before that, Salt Life.

“There weren’t many meetings on it.  There was a brief county meeting, but not that many people attended or knew about it,” local Dean Walker said.

Walker’s statement reflects the larger issue at hand – a population that feels isolated from local government.

The future of the beach is still very much in contention amongst locals. Some fear that it represents the commercialization of the beach they’ve called home for years.

The Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort on St. Augustine Beach, for example, will become a Guy Harvey Outpost, starting in fall of 2015.  Harvey will be pouring $4,000,000 into renovating the existing property

Many say development of the beaches will spill over to downtown.

“They’re kind of two different worlds,” Larson said.  “Downtown can’t do much because the preservation society keeps everything how they want it.”

Larson estimates that the hotel will break ground in July or August, followed by 14 to 16 months of construction. The project would be finalized, if all goes well, in 2016 or early 2017, much sooner than most expected.

The second part of the project won’t be finished until 2020 at the earliest, if it happens at all, according to Larson.

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