What’s the saying: You learn from your mistakes? Often, those mistakes, especially the most costly mistakes, become the lessons that sink in the most and you never forget.
You might say Chuck Whittall, the Orlando developer trying to redevelop the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort property, likely won’t forget the lessons he learned on Longboat Key. To be sure, he paid a dear price.
Here’s one: He should have listened before he leaped.
You probably have heard this said about developers: They all love their projects and think everyone is going to love their projects as much as they do.
That’s pretty much what happened when Whittall, in his enthusiasm and eagerness to propose a magnificent development for a magnificent piece of beachfront property, unveiled his original plans for a redeveloped Colony.
It was magnificent, all right. A grand vision — perhaps a grand vision for, say, Orlando or Miami. But not for Longboat Key.
And he did what developers often do. After unveiling his gleaming, five-star, high-rise plans, he tried to sell it to an audience he didn’t really bother to get to know. He held meeting after meeting with Longboat residents, attempting to convince them that 12-story buildings and 180 more residential units, on top of the original 237 tourism units on the property would be a great fit on Longboat Key.
We all know — especially Whittall — how that went over. Eighty-seven percent of Longboat residents who cast ballots last March essentially said: Go back to Orlando.
Or, to put it more politely, Longboaters sent the message they don’t want grand magnificence. They want Longboat — a development that fits the style and character of Longboat Key. We’re not South Beach; we’re not Orlando Resortville.
That was clear when he unveiled last week his latest iteration of the Colony redevelopment. At these early glances and reading of it, Whittall’s newest plans are much more in line with the scale of Longboat Key.
Don’t fret about traffic. For those who lived on Longboat during the heyday of the Colony — when it was the No. 1 tennis resort in the world — you remember how it contributed to the heartbeat and life of the Key. Not only for its unit owners and the visitors who stayed there, but also for the residents who wined and dined at the Colony Restaurant. The Colony was one of the jewels that gave the Key life. Its patrons and Longboat residents didn’t harp about traffic. They enjoyed the resort.
Whittall’s newest design looks like it could do the same. It may be larger than the original Colony by 31 units (268 vs. the original 237), but more than a decade ago, when Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber, owned the resort, he was scheming even then about how to expand the Colony to stay competitive. A slight expansion was inevitable.
Look at Whittall’s plans this way, too: He is proposing again a mix of tourism and residential units. But in his new version, there would be 71 fewer tourism units than in the original Colony (less traffic).
And let’s not deny: Longboat residents would be proud to have a St. Regis hotel flag on the island. (Think how that helps your property values.)
But, of course, this is not a done deal.
Whittall still needs to secure the support of one of the toughest holdouts among Colony unit owners, Andy Adams, the man who holds veto power over every development plan.
What’s more, Whittall’s development applications with the town indicate his plans will need zoning amendments — always a complicated proposition on Longboat Key.
Likewise, from the town’s perspective, there’s also the question of whether Whittall’s proposed residential units will need voter approval. We can expect some protracted legal discussions over that one.
As this long saga continues to unfold, it certainly looks now that, on paper, Whittall has a plan that makes sense. He showed a willingness and commitment to listen and work with Longboat residents and the town. We hope the town and Longboat residents reciprocate.