How much impact can 146 hotel rooms have?
Just ask longtime Longboat Key residents and business owners who remember the island’s Holiday Inn.
The 146-unit resort closed Sept. 1, 2003. This past Sunday marked 10 years without the hotel’s existence on the Key.
In its place, construction began on the luxury, 29-unit Positano condominium, where sales have ranged from $2,025,000 to $4.05 million since they hit the market in 2007.
In the decade since, both past and current business owners have repeated some version of this story: They opened shop on a Key that was once bustling. Then, the Holiday Inn closed.
“You can directly attribute the decline to the day the Holiday Inn closed,” said Marnie Matarese, a former Longboat Key resident.
Matarese is now a Realtor but previously owned a gym, Aerobics and Iron, on the Key in the 1990s. She’s been active in the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce for the past two decades, having served multiple terms as its president.
“To me, it was a bigger hit than the Colony,” Matarese said, referring to the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, which closed in 2010 amid ongoing lawsuits. “By the time the Colony happened, we were already in decline. When the Holiday Inn closed, that was still a moderately priced destination, and it brought a lot of people to the island who couldn’t necessarily have the means to go to the Key Club.”
“People used to go there all summer long for the weekend,” said Harry Christenson, owner of Harry’s Continental Kitchens. “It was huge for summer tourism.”
Longboat Key Vice Mayor David Brenner summed up his concerns about the loss of 146 rooms, saying: “For the next generation of folks who are going to come here, it doesn’t have the same attractiveness that it did 10 years ago.”
Carole Nikla never had trouble selling rooms at Longboat Key’s Holiday Inn during her 16 years as its director of sales.
She credits the resort, which was built in 1972, with putting Longboat Key on the map. It was a higher-priced Holiday Inn with Gulf beach access. It had an indoor playroom and swimming pool, along with an upstairs bar area called the Crow’s Nest, where people could watch their children in the pool while they drank a cocktail.
But families with children weren’t the resort’s only guests.
“In the winter, we had upscale corporations and affluent tourists,” Nikla said.
Approximately 20% of the resort’s bookings were groups.
General Motors held union negotiations at the Holiday Inn. Companies such as AT&T and Bell Labs held corporate meetings at the resort, as did countless other companies and associations.
The average stay was around three-and-a-half days. Occupancy ranged from more than 90% at peak season to less than 70% in September.
A typical guest would eat breakfast at the hotel but would usually venture out for lunch and dinner, while also shopping at local businesses.
Nikla explained the difference between a condominium and a hotel when it comes to the impact on their local community.
“A condo renter is a different kind of renter,” she said. “When they come to a hotel, they expect to go out to eat and see the sights.”
The Holiday Inn also employed nearly 100 people, many of whom shopped on the Key or stopped for a drink after work at island restaurants.
Ethna Lynch, who owns Lynches Pub & Grub on St. Armands Circle with her sister, Chris Lynch, worked as a bartender at the Holiday Inn from 1982 until 1986, when she and her sister opened their first restaurant, Lynches Landing, on Longboat Key. In the early years, she got most of her customers from the Holiday Inn.
“It changed Longboat tremendously,” Lynch said. “We thank our lucky stars that we had already left Longboat when it closed.”
Longboat Key has experienced a drop in business over the past decade. The most recent data for the U.S. Census Business Patterns Survey is from 2010. Over the prior decade, the Key lost 40 businesses and 780 jobs.
Although it gained businesses in fields such as real estate and leasing, the number of retailers fell from 38 in 2001 to 19 in 2010. The number of businesses classified as accommodations/food services went from 29 in 2001 to 22 in 2010.
It’s hard to determine how much of that slump is the result of the Holiday Inn’s closing. The condominium conversion came less than two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that brought nationwide tourism to a lull. It was also part of a wider real estate trend in which small mom-and-pop motels converted to luxury condos with just a fraction of the units.
Then came red tide. Then there was a global recession. Many business owners also experienced a slump following the BP oil spill in 2010.
Art Falls, who died in July and owned the Sea Stable, Brightwater Boutique and Susan Stribling’s New Traditions on the Key, described the impact of the closing in a “My View” in the Longboat Observer.
He estimated that 10% of Holiday Inn visitors shopped at the Sea Stable and that the loss of the rooms would result in 3,520 fewer shopping visits and a loss of $91,676 per year.
Still, not everyone is singing the Holiday Inn blues.
Christensen’s wife, Lynn, said that their deli lost some traffic from the Holiday Inn, although most of the resort’s customers didn’t dine at the restaurant. In fact, when she looked at the numbers in 2002 and 2003 to compare with 2004 and 2005 after its closing, business increased overall.
“What Holiday Inn?” asked Cannons Marina owner David Miller, when the Longboat Observer asked him about the impact of the hotel’s closing.
“There are still lots of tourists around and there are still lots of people around,” Miller said. “There possibly was some fallout from it, but nothing dramatic at all.”
The closing, Miller says, may have even been good for Cannons Marina.
“The people who live there now buy boats from us,” Miller said. “The people who stayed at the Holiday Inn used to rent boats from us.”
Click here to see a Longboat Key Cenus chart from 2001 to 2010.
The phrase “everything but the kitchen sink” didn’t apply to the Holiday Inn’s closing sale.
There were, in fact, 20 kitchen sinks for sale at the resort’s liquidation sale in September 2003.
A few highlights from the sale:
The hotel bar, where a bartender told police she sold Sept. 11 terrorist Mohamed Atta a drink, was for sale for $8,500.
The hotel’s aquarium, along with the blowfish, eel and other aquatic species inside, was priced at $1,250.
There were also 25-inch TVs for $109 and a mini-fridges for $55.
Especially popular were the $15 shower curtains and $12 hair dryers that sold out within a few days.
During the first week, an estimated 2,000 people stopped by the hotel in search of bargains.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].