Ian closed resorts and slammed condos, now Vanderbilt Beach area is coming back

Ian closed resorts and slammed condos, now Vanderbilt Beach area is coming back

  • 03/25/23

Ian closed resorts and slammed condos, now Vanderbilt Beach area is coming back


Vanderbilt Beach has come a long way since Hurricane Ian, but it's still missing one of its "crown jewels."

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples remains closed.

Credited with putting Naples on the map, the heavily damaged resort is still under repair and it's not expected to reopen until mid-summer.

The sudden storm-induced shutdown forced the Ritz, one of the county's larger employers, to lay off nearly 600 employees. Rarely has it closed.

Ian hit the Vanderbilt Beach area in North Naples particularly hard, with its fierce winds and even fiercer storm surge on Sept. 28. A USGS Flood Event Viewer shows a storm surge of more than 11 feet at the beach, based on a high water line photographed at public restrooms.

Nearby homes, condos and businesses got slammed, along with the beach itself.

Six months after Ian, Vanderbilt Beach continues to recover, rebuild and evolve. There's been progress – and it shows, with much of the storm's unprecedented wreckage gone.

For starters, the popular beach is bustling again.

The access and parking garage for the public beach reopened in December, marking an important milestone in the recovery for residents – and visitors.

Businesses getting back on their feet

Not far from the Ritz, the LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, another Gulf-front jewel, started a phased reopening in late January. It has introduced a new beach bar and grill to boot.

The small family-owned Vanderbilt Beach Resort has announced a full reopening of its 32 rooms by March 30.

The resort's charming Turtle Club restaurant, gutted by the storm, is getting there. After a rebuild, it expects to welcome back diners in the summer or fall. That's according to its website, which in a pop-up message exclaims: "We will be back soon!"

The future of Gulf Pointe, a quaint 15-room timeshare resort on the shores of Vanderbilt Beach, is less certain. It remains closed, its wounds from Ian still painfully raw.

As for the Ritz, it needs more time to heal.

The world-renowned resort planned to debut its multimillion-dollar transformation and expansion in December to "start its next chapter" before Ian got in the way.

Despite major construction, the Ritz continued to operate until the storm forced an evacuation, then a now months-long closure, due to serious damage from the rush of wind, water and sand from the Gulf.

Evolution of an Icon

In a statement, Emmie Lancaster, a senior marketing manager for The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, thanked emergency responders, the community and its "extended family of hotels" that have provided support since the hurricane.

"It’s because of their support and the community's resiliency that our team has been able to work safely and diligently to once again present world-class amenities and experiences that pay homage to nearly 40 years of iconic memories," she said.

The waterfront resort's "Evolution of an Icon" transformation includes:

  • A champagne lobby bar
  • An expansive club lounge, spanning 4,000 square feet
  • A richer pool experience
  • A refresh of guest rooms, inspired by luxury sleeping cars

There will be new places to eat, too, such as Sofra, a "vegetable-forward" Mediterranean concept, and Moka, serving gourmet coffees and breakfast pastries.

The even ritzier resort will have 474 luxury guest rooms and suites, with 57 newly-built suites added in a new tower.

The resort, built in 1985 and improved many time since, hoped to be back in business by now. Initially, it targeted March for a reopening.

Restoration has proven more challenging than expected, with so much saltwater wreaking havoc on the lower floors, including electrical boxes, said Paul Beirnes, the county's tourism director.

The Ritz has a big impact on tourism.

"We will feel that, but it is what it is. And we're navigating it accordingly," Beirnes said.

He noted the "big box" properties of the LaPlaya and the Ritz not only attract well-heeled vacationers, but host corporate meetings and other events, from weddings to reunions, so the aftershock of their closures has been twofold on the local economy.

More than a tourist destination

Vanderbilt Beach is more than a nice place to visit or vacation. It's a coveted place to live, for its sand and sunsets, and easy access to the Gulf of Mexico.

The coastal area is home to many – and its homes and condos took a thrashing from Ian, creating mountains of debris street-side and requiring a massive clean-up of rubble, from drywall and appliances to furniture and carpeting, which took months to haul away.

Hard-hit condo buildings have welcomed back their residents, with their power, elevators and gutted lobbies restored.

Meanwhile, Conners on Vanderbilt Beach, a neighborhood of about 500 canal-front single-family homes, steps from the Gulf of Mexico, is in flux, with some owners choosing to repair or rebuild and others deciding to sell after a severe pounding from Ian that left the boating community looking like a war zone.

Now, the community is more of a construction zone.

New opportunities for buyers

There are more for sale signs around now than before Ian, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, said Jamie Chang, a Realtor with Premier Sotheby's International Realty on Vanderbilt Beach.

"We've had quite a bit of property come up for sale in the area, which is great because any waterfront has been highly desired, over the past couples years, through COVID," she said.

Ian isn't the only reason the inventory is rising.

"In general, the Vanderbilt Beach area has seen an influx of inventory due to the storm and the overall market conditions normalizing," with the easing of a white-hot market, Chang said.

She counted nearly 20 homes and condos that had changed hands in the area post-storm. That show "buyers' interest is still strong for beach and waterfront," Chang noted.

"There's still strong demand," she said. "There always will be."

Undeterred by Ian, construction continues on the Ritz-Carlton Residences at Vanderbilt Beach Road and Gulf Shore Drive, across from the still-closed beachfront resort by the same name.

The ultra-luxury community by Stock Development will have 128 residences in two 12-story towers and three five-story buildings, with a marina, a secluded park and a 28,000-square-foot residents' club. The club will include a private restaurant and bar, theater, golf simulator and spa, among other owner-only amenities.

More than half of the condos are already reserved, which Chang described as "quite amazing."

Claudine Leger-Wetzel, Stock Development's vice president of sales and marketing, said interest in the project has been tremendous, with agents and their clients flocking to its sales office.

"Buyers from Naples and throughout the country have responded to the ideal waterfront location, the luxury lifestyle and new construction," she said. "Our sales gallery on Vanderbilt Beach Road has state-of-the-art technology, a scale model and virtual tours, which have really helped our buyers envision the entire project and the site upon completion."

Pre-construction pricing starts at $4 million.

Future looks bright

As Vanderbilt Beach recover and evolves, Chang sees sunny days and blue skies ahead.

"I think it has a bright future," she said.

Only recently did she move back into her damaged offices on Vanderbilt Beach Road after contractors made them habitable again.

It gives her a better view of the progress made since Ian – and the progress that's to come. She's happy about that.

"I feel very optimistic about the area," Chang said. "It definitely has more life than it did before. It was very brown and depressing before. Now you are seeing landscaping come back and people in the area. People are going back to the beach."

Full Story here: https://eu.naplesnews.com/story/news/local/2023/03/22/hurricane-ian-vanderbilt-beach-bouncing-back-from-hurricane-ian/69976804007/

Work With Jamie

Jamie specializes in luxury residential properties throughout Naples’ most exclusive and sought after communities. Whether you are looking for a new home or thinking about selling your current home, call me today.

Follow Jamie on Instagram