By Jim Melican, GSAC President Emeritus
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Most of us, when driving towards downtown Naples on either Tamiami Trail or Gulf Shore Blvd. North, have noticed the screening around the property which contained the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, for so long one of our city’s iconic locations. Many have also wondered where the project, which generated controversy and local media coverage immediately before and after the November 2021 transfer of ownership from the Watkins family to The Athens Group, now stands. We contacted the executive management of The Athens Group, which has successfully developed a number of very prestigious resort projects elsewhere in the U.S., to get a current update.

The new 216-room Four Seasons Hotel which is now under construction on the west (Gulf-facing) side of Gulf Shore Blvd. North, was delayed for a few months by Hurricane Ian and is now expected to open in early 2025. It will have over 100 fewer rooms than the former, now demolished hotel and will be the first Four Seasons resort on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The entire development will now be called the Naples Beach Club and the hotel will be called the Naples Beach Club, a Four Seasons Resort.

The Athens Group is hoping to get the Naples City Council approval for the rest of the first phase of the project in the coming months. The city’s Planning Advisory Board, at a public hearing on February 8, voted 5-1 to recommend that the Council approve the slightly revised site plan for the portion of the property that will house the Naples Beach Club’s residential buildings immediately adjacent to and across GSBN from the hotel. The City Council will now make the final decision on this issue on March 22.

Based upon input from Four Seasons, Athens has redesigned the project’s Market Square and Conference Center across from the hotel and next to the golf course. The redesign will break up one long building into two buildings that will have less mass and overall height along with more open space and less lot coverage. It will also include somewhat less meeting space than previously existed (but hopefully enough to accommodate the local groups such as the Forum Club and Rotary which have traditionally met there—The Athens Group hopes they will continue to call the resort their home).

The Market Square community gathering place next to the golf course continues to be improved upon and it will be anchored by a restaurant and include a small bowling alley for the restaurant’s guests along with the resort’s spa and fitness facility. In addition, this first phase will continue to include three residential condominium buildings on the Gulf side containing a total of 58 units (down from the 94 units initially approved).

Many of these residences have already been sold. The Athens Group’s objective is to complete all of this phase one construction by the end of 2025 with completion of the hotel, Market Square and the Clubhouse (the rebranded conference center) completed and open for operation in the first quarter of 2025. The upgraded 18-hole golf course and the three Gulf side residential buildings are expected to open in late 2025.

Of the total tract size of nearly 125 acres, 105 acres will be subject to a perpetual conservation easement that will keep the golf course area as recreation and open space forever. After months of work with the City and the North American Land Trust, the Conservation Easement was signed last May and will be recorded when the building permits are issued for the first phase of the project (but not the building permit for any golf course upgrade). The golf course will be improved, and it will remain an 18-hole golf course. This second phase of the project will consist of additional condominium buildings that were approved by the City in 2019 as part of the overall project. Virtually all of the amenities throughout the project will be open to the public as had been the case in the past. With all of the controversy and uncertainty that has surrounded this project since it was initially conceived, there is reason for optimism that the necessary remaining approvals will soon be obtained from the City Council and other City review boards and an area which has been an intrinsic part of the City’s charm and attraction will again be functional within about the next two years.