Top Arvida Corp. officials flew in from around the United States; each was seeking a first look at the pristine new beachfront hotel.
It was the final week of September 1982, and the Inn on the Beach hotel had finally been completed, more than six years after the Longboat Key Town Commission approved plans for the Longboat Key Club, which would have a resort at the center, serving as the hub of its activity.
The hotel welcomed its first guests Oct. 4, 1982, including a conference group from Eastern Airlines.
In the following months, parties and golf and tennis tournaments celebrated the new resort.
“They had a big shindig,” said Richard “Sam” Barlow, who began working for Arvida in 1970 and today serves as the Key Club’s irrigation technician. “The mayor was invited. I remember that. A lot of the locals came out.”
Longboat Key Director of Tennis John Woods remembers the celebratory tennis tournament that drew big names such as Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, along with a dinner dance in which Larry Elgart and his band played.
The three-month kick-off period was titled “Celebration of a Dream.”
Arvida officials weren’t the first to dream big for Longboat Key’s south end.
A January 1983 advertisement for Inn on the Beach paid homage to the man whose big dreams never came to fruition.
The promise that was made ahead of its time came in the form of a luxury hotel on the land that is now the home of the Chart House Restaurant in 1926 that was to become a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Instead, John Ringling ran out of money as Florida’s land boom burst in the late 1920s. Ringling abandoned the hotel, which was approximately 90 days away from completion.
The hotel languished for the next three-and-a-half decades, dubbed the “Ghost Hotel” by locals. It was an eyesore and a known hangout for local teenagers.
Then, in 1959, Arthur Vining Davis, a 92-year-old aluminum mogul, set his sights on Longboat Key. He formed a development company and named it Arvida, combining the first two letters of his first, middle and last names, then for $13.5 million purchased 2,000 acres, including the south half of Longboat Key, most of Lido Key, and all of Bird, Otter and Coon keys.
The sale was the largest real-estate deal in Sarasota history.
Shortly after the deal was announced in 1959, a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article contemplated the possibilities the deal carried, including the completion of Ringling’s hotel.
“Arvida has in its hands the future of Sarasota,” a top local Realtor, who had searched for a buyer and developer of the hotel and believed it to be structurally sound, told the newspaper. “If the project is done well, it will be of benefit to all who live here. If it is done badly, it will be disastrous.”
In the early 1960s, Arvida considered completing Ringling’s hotel, but 33 years of neglect made that impossible. Instead, the company demolished the hotel in 1962 and 1963.
The company then began a massive development program throughout the Key, clearing land, digging a perimeter canal “and coming before the Town Commission with scores of plans for some of the most attractive and innovative buildings and golf courses in the country,” according to Ralph Hunter’s “From Calusas to Condominiums.”
In 1975, after it had already built its first golf course and tennis facilities at Islandside, Arvida applied to develop the Key Club’s hotel, restaurant, 1,500 residences, yacht club and specialty shopping center.
Residents who filled Town Hall weren’t just concerned about Arvida’s plans for the Key Club. They worried about plans for shopping centers, tourist traps and attractions that would bring the masses across the bridges from mainland Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Finally, the commission approved the plan 4-3 in May 1976. But the approval was contingent on Arvida’s compliance with 25 conditions, including its providing for the widening of Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Dream come true
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Key Club.
The next four years would bring various threats of lawsuits, discussions and compromises about the project’s zoning, development schedule and land intensity schedule.
But by 1980, Arvida got permission to begin construction for its hotel, and two years later, the first hotel guests arrived.
The opening of the hotel was neither the beginning nor the end of the Longboat Key Club’s development.
But a newspaper advertisement that ran during the three months after the hotel was completed summed up the milestone moment.
“John Ringling had a dream,” it stated. “A magnificent dream of an unsurpassed resort experience in the Florida Gulf Coast sunset. In keeping with that dream, Arvida Corp. unveils the Inn on the Beach at Longboat Key Club. To fulfill a promise that was made before its time. But, that time has come ... and now we celebrate that dream.”
This article includes information from Frank Cunningham’s “The Key to Longboat”; Ralph Hunter’s “From Calusas to Condominiums”; Gary Mormino’s “Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams”; and archives of the Longboat Observer, Gulf Coast Business Review, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, St. Petersburg Times and The Evening Independent.
Celebrities who have stayed at the resort
Dr. Robert Ballard
Chief Justice Warren Burger
President Bill Clinton
Gen. Alexander Haig
Pee Wee Herman
Huey Lewis & the News
Sen. Patrick Kennedy
Gen. Stanley McChrystal
Penelope Anne Miller
Dick Nan Patton
Brad and Kimberly Paisley
Mrs. Anwar Sadat
LONGBOAT KEY CLUB & RESORT TIMELINE
1959 — Arthur Vining Davis formed Arvida Corp. and purchased John Ringling’s 2,000-acre real-estate holdings including the southern half of Longboat Key, most of Lido Key and all of Bird, Otter and Coon keys.
1960 — The Islandside golf course opened.
1962-63 — Arvida demolished John Ringling’s unfinished Ritz-Carlton — aka the “Ghost Hotel.”
1967 — Arvida moved its office to 301 Gulf of Mexico Drive, the present-day location of the Longboat Key Club’s Islandside resort.
1975-6 — Arvida began developing the Bay Isles section of Longboat Key.
May 1976 — The Longboat Key Town Commission approved Arvida’s plan for the Longboat Key Club’s hotel, restaurant, 1,500 residences, yacht club and specialty shopping center.
Oct. 1, 1982 — Inn on the Beach welcomed its first guests and commemorated the hotel’s opening with a three-month kickoff entitled, “Celebration of a Dream.”
Oct. 29, 1982 — The Key Club’s Harbourside golf course opened, featuring a more heavily wooded design with mammoth greens than the existing Islandside course.
1984 — The Key Club received four stars in the Mobil Travel Guide — one of the few resorts to achieve such a rating after its first year — and four diamonds from the American Automobile Association (now AAA).
April 30, 1990 — The Shannon Resort Group Inc. entity Key Club Associates purchased the Key Club’s Harbourside and Islandside golf and tennis facilities for $22 million and Inn on the Beach in a separate $3 million sale. The sale closed nearly two years after Shannon officials began negotiations. As part of an agreement between the town and Arvida, the town had the first right of refusal for the purchase of the property’s golf and tennis facilities. The commission ultimately voted 3-4 against the purchase, clearing the way for the Shannon Group to buy the facilities.
July 1992 — The Town Commission approved an out-of-court settlement with the Shannon Hotel Group as part of the “Tee Time” lawsuits stemming from a complaint that the company gave preference to hotel guests over members for tee times at its golf facilities despite a previous agreement that members would be given preference. The agreement allowed the Key Club to solicit membership off the island, as long as it could prove that it wasn’t operating at capacity and to allow hotel guests to use the Harbourside course with a one-day advance booking between Jan. 1 and April 30, while disallowing group bookings.
1996 — The 12,000-square-foot Harbourside clubhouse was completed, and expansions of the Islandside clubhouse, including the addition of a 3,000-square-foot fitness center, was also finished.
March 2004 — Loeb announced that Shannon Resort & Club Group owners Shane Eagan and Tom Rasmussen would no longer manage the Key Club. Michael Welly was named as the Key Club’s new general manager.
April 2004 — The Longboat Key Planning & Zoning Board denied the Ca d’Coure project. Welly later recommended withdrawing the plan to Loeb.
December 2007 — The Key Club purchased Longboat Key Moorings for $8 million, completing a deal that took three years of negotiations and three separate offers.
April 10, 2008 — The Key Club unveiled a $500-million project for its southernmost Islandside property.
Sept. 30, 2008 — The Key Club filed a pre-application request for a $400 million scaled-back plan in part because of concerns of Islandside residents.
March 2009 — The Key Club unveiled its $4.5 million Tennis Gardens facility with 20 Har-Tru courts, tennis concierge, Court 21 Cafe and Lounge, and a 500-seat stadium that can be expanded to seat up to 2,500.
June 30, 2010 — The Town Commission approved the Islandside plan after 23 public hearings, which took place at Temple Beth Israel instead of Town Hall because of the crowd’s size.
Aug. 22, 2012 — The Key Club and Loeb announced a joint venture with the Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties Ltd. For all of the resort’s assets that, if consummated, will make Ocean Properties an equity partner in Key Club Associates, L.P., the entity that controls the Key Club.
Aug. 29, 2012 — The Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling that quashed the Islandside development order, effectively killing the application.
September 2012 — Key Club General Manager Michael Welly received the green light from Loeb and the Islandside project’s London-based investors, Abercromby Property International, to resubmit its project to the town.