Locals, tourists bid farewell to landmark Naples hotel; new resort planned

Reporter: Nicole Lauren Writer: Joey Pellegrino
The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. (Credit: WINK News)

A staple of family fun and beachside relaxation is close to closure and a major change: On Thursday, we’ll learn more about the new vision for the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. Everyone WINK News spoke to about the resort spoke of years of great memories, of seeing it as a community landmark and a gathering place for everyone in Southwest Florida.

“It is the only place in Naples where you can walk up onto the beach, walk up to the bar and see the same people year after year, and it’s just casual and low-key,” said Bob Watson, of Maryland. “That’s not around anymore.”

The hotel has been in the Watkins family since the late 1940s. Through the years, they transformed the nearly 130-acre property into a beautiful resort and beach club with golf and tennis. The family recently made clear the importance of keeping this property a resort for families and local guests, and it seems like their wish may come true.

The Athens Group, a hotel and resort developer, has plans to construct a 220-room resort, along with condos on both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard. But when the Watkins family hands over the property, 293 employees will soon be out of a job.

“Naples is changing… the whole town is changing,” Watson said. “I don’t know if it’s for the best.”

Locals, as well as snowbirds like Watson, have expressed mixed feelings about the revamp. Some believe the closure is a huge loss, while others who live in the area are excited to see what’s next.

“Progress calls, and I think what they’re going to be doing here is going to be pretty cool,” said Naples resident Rodney Geier. “I think the Watkins family has done a great job here over the years, making this a community place. I think they will pass that along to the Athens Group, and I think the Athens Group is going to… seems to be doing what they can to make people happy.”

One family rushed down from Boston once it got word the hotel was going to close down.

“We decided, especially once we got our shots, we thought we’d come down and stay here for the last time, because we had such good memories here,” said Paula DeConti.

“Fantastic family place, it’s so representative of older Florida,” said Gulio DeConti. “What you have around now is a lot of the same. This is old Florida; it’s a pity that it’s being lost. It really is.”

Neighbors in this area do have some concerns, including what the developer plans to do with the golf course and tennis courts. There may be clarification on those and the future of the property during Thursday’s 6 p.m. Naples City Council meeting.

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