Demolition of the once iconic resort will take at most 120 days, according to a contract between the town and Unicorp National Developments, the approved developer of the site.
The demolition of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort consisted of a few lines on a routine permit, issued by the Longboat Key Building Department the day before.
Along with an address, a few lines identifying the owner, the permit applicant and a few fees totaling $550 was a description of the work to be done at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive: Vertical demolition of villas 1-18, Midrise, Lanai, restaurant, Beachfront, Vagabond, Castaways & Realty, including foundations.
And so, on Thursday, July 26, at a little after 2 p.m., an excavator raised its jaw to the level of a second-floor balcony and advanced on one of the villas, sending planks into the air and nearly taking the whole thing down with one bite, simultaneously closing one chapter of the resort's history and opening another.
A second bite finished off the balcony and its wooden supports.
Residents shouldn’t expect whole buildings to come down for at least another week, said Chuck Whittall, the president of Unicorp National Developments Inc. said. That’s because the contractor needs to remove all windows, furniture and asbestos from the property before it may demolish the buildings. Once the 237 units at the site of the former Colony are demolished, they cannot be rebuilt.
Unicorp, the Orlando company not only demolishing the buildings but also planning the redevelopment of the property to become a St. Regis Hotel and Residences on the iconic beachfront property, has 120 days to knock down more balconies and buildings. It also is required to sod the soon-to-be vacant lot in preparation for groundbreaking on the new project, possibly as soon as next summer.
"It's bittersweet," Whittall said. "It's nice to see progress being made, but it's sad because a lot of people loved this place."
In the meantime, unit owners, about 100 of them, will retain ownership of the 237 units but at some point, there will be nothing physical, beyond the land, to own.
Each owner has a right to 1/237 of an interest in the common elements, which, once all the buildings are demolished, will be the land itself. Unicorp owns 32 of the units, Andy Adams owns 74 units and there are about 100 other unit owners, Whittall said.
That right to the common elements of the property is being challenged by Unicorp in a civil lawsuit to dissolve the condominium association on the grounds the buildings have been deemed unsafe and unfit by the town, that the property “creates vast economic waste” and the the majority of the unit owners desire to terminate the association.
If the termination of the condominium association is approved by a judge, the unit owners' holdings of the common elements of the property will be dissolved, giving Unicorp the opportunity to gain full ownership of the property. The developer must own the property outright before it may begin building at the site.
Although no court dates have been scheduled in the case to terminate the condominium association, Whittall said he hopes the litigation will end by first quarter 2019.
Town officials, who considered Unicorp's plans through most of 2017 and approved them in March, were advised against attending a ceremony at the site on Thursday because of the possible appeal of a demolition order for the last building on the site.
"This is a negative, adversarial action by the town to demolish someone's private property,” said Town Manager Tom Harmer of his decision to not attend the event. “It’s the government demo-ing private property.”
The demolition process actually began in October when a town building official issued a report finding the structures at the site of the former Colony unsafe and unfit. On April 25, the town building official and fire marshal inspected the site to determine whether the buildings pose an imminent threat to public health, safety and welfare.
"The town building official and fire marshal have expressed concern relating to the condition of the structures on the site and the ability of the structures to withstand another hurricane season,” Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons, wrote in a May email to Town Manager Tom Harmer.
The Town Commission approved construction of the 166-room, 78-condominium St. Regis Hotel and Residences on the property March 16. That development is scheduled to break ground sometime next summer with a completion date sometime in 2021.