Whittall fields Colony concerns, compliments on campaign trail
Editor & Publisher
Chuck Whittall must feel a lot like a candidate on the campaign trail. Over the past two months, the President of Unicorp has met with hundreds of Longboat Key residents to explain why his redevelopment plan for the Colony makes sense for Longboat Key and should earn their support when they vote in March on whether to allow 180 residential units to be added to the site.
Whittall admits that the reaction has been mixed. At some of his public meetings he has met with enthusiasm and at others, clear opposition is apparent.
His plan is to add the 180 residential units to the 237 tourism units allowed on the 17.2 acre site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
As the vote nears, Longboat Key News spoke with Whittall about what he is hearing on his campaign trail and his reaction to the pros and cons. Here is what he had to say:
Let’s start with the positives. What do voters say they like about your plan?
Everybody likes the amenities, the pools, the water features and the genuine feeling of being at a resort. The restaurants also seem to be a big plus to voters.
And the counterpoint: What are the negatives you are hearing?
The two big issues are traffic on Longboat Key and the height. We’ve offered several solutions and will pay for improvements to help mitigate traffic at St. Armands Circle and on Cortez Road, which are a couple of the bottlenecks. As far as the height, I’ve heard people say it looks like Miami Beach. That is architecture and we can make changes to the style and lower it to eight or nine stories. We can also make changes in the Planning and Zoning process to make sure it conforms with the character of the key. We are willing to do some retooling of the plan and maybe scale it back a bit, but we need the referendum to pass in order to negotiate with the town and proceed with the project.
Some say just rebuild the 237 units that existed at the Colony and try to recreate what was there. Why do you not pursue that plan?
The Colony economically failed. When people say they want it back, they want something that is not financially viable. We understand that Murf Klauber needed more meeting space and there was none at the former Colony. In short, projects are not built like the Colony anymore; it is now outdated.
There have been other plans and other developers who are interested in the property. What could happen if the referendum fails in that regard?
There’s no other possibility of another individual redeveloping the Colony other than our company. We have an easement over the property and we own 2.3 acres. The town will not allow the property to be divided and nothing can happen without its consolidation. We’re the only company with a development agreement and we are not willing to sell our position. The other plan floated out there is not viable and the individual behind it has no stake in the land, owns no units and has no agreement in place. He does not have the capability to deliver the ideas he is floating.
What assets specifically do you own?
We currently own 16 of the 237 condominium units. We own the commercial units and all the beachfront amenities including the restaurant, pool, the tennis courts, as well as the entrance to the property and all the service buildings and 90 percent of the frontage on Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Has this process grown personal to you in any way?
I want to retire at this property. I want to have a residence there and make sure it’s the kind of quality that I want to spend my lifetime at. It is a wonderful opportunity.
An organized group has come out against your plan. What is your reaction?
The neighbors are mainly the group that is against it and they are mainly worried about their views. They say we will overpopulate the beaches, but that is not true. They say we will create shadows on their property and the facts show that is not true. They say there will be traffic issues, but we are creating mitigation strategies.
What happens if you are voted down?
It has taken years to get an agreement with the Colony Association of Unit Owners. We would have to go back and restructure the offer and it’s hard to determine what exactly would work. It would definitely be a more difficult transaction.
One of the options is you can build 103 residences without any voter approval. Why not do that?
The 103 condos do not serve the need of Longboat Key. Longboat was built with a certain amount of tourism and larger amount of residential. You can hurt businesses and you need some of the tourism to continue the charm that is part of the key. As a developer I could build the condos and make a profit, but I don’t think it would best serve the key.