By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Woods had already developed a sentimental attachment to her motel, but she knew that she couldn't fight Passalacqua. Besides, his terms were generous. Better to cut her losses and go along with him.
In August 2004, Woods signed a contract to sell the Sun & Surf to Passalacqua's development firm. That same year, at Passalacqua's request, Woods went to City Hall to declare her support for the Hollywood Grande. The developer had cut similar deals with other adjacent landowners. "He wanted everybody to speak for him, which we did," Woods says. Ultimately, it helped Passalacqua get approval to increase the size and scale of his project.
But Woods says the developer was slow to hold up his end of the bargain. The deadline for the first payment to Woods came and went. Passalacqua's lawyer told Woods' lawyer the developer wouldn't be purchasing the property after all. (Passalacqua declined interview requests from New Times.)
Johnson Street and Michigan Street
Hollywood, FL 33019
Category: Parks and Outdoors
Today, between the Hollywood Grande site and the new sewer and water lines being installed to accommodate it, the Sun & Surf is surrounded by construction. Dirt gets through the windows and under the bedsheets. Jackhammers shake the walls. Guests from overseas have arrived only to cancel their reservations. Says Woods: "I can't very well tell them they shouldn't."
Last year, the Sun & Surf was full from November through April. This year, during such peak periods as New Year's Eve, the motel's 18 rooms have been empty. Soon, the Sun & Surf will go out of business and Woods wonders whether this was all part of Passalacqua's plan: "He's waiting to sweep in like a vulture and pick the bones clean as soon as we fall down."
Woods is considering a suit against Passalacqua, but she can hardly afford the attorney's retainer. Besides, her first concern is saving her property from foreclosure, which at the moment seems imminent.
Few Hollywood Beach motel owners face as dire a predicament as Woods, but it's hard to imagine the scenario not repeating itself as land prices continue to rise. Woods won't be the last to be driven out by new development.
"I always thought that if you do things the right way, do the best you can for other people... ," Woods says, but her voice trails off, embarrassed, perhaps, by how naive she sounds.
Over the more than 40 years that Dori Lynn Neuwirth's family has run the Atlantic Sands on Hayes Street, the motel has attracted a devoted pack of seasonal regulars. Some of those regulars even time their vacations so they can meet up every year with the same visitors coming from different parts of the world.
The Atlantic Sands is not close to any ongoing developments, but Neuwirth is still feeling the weight of high property taxes. With only seven units in her one-story building, it's hard for Neuwirth to raise enough revenue to turn a profit. So before last season, she e-mailed her regulars to inform them that she was increasing the room rates from $725 per week to $825. It didn't go over well.
"My February group called me out for a sitdown," she says, laughing. "They said to me, 'How could you do this? We're like family. '"
Neuwirth ultimately caved, allowing regulars to pay the previous year's rate.
The Atlantic Sands could, like many well-maintained motels on Hollywood Beach, raise its rates and still fill its rooms, but that would mean targeting customers who occupy loftier income brackets, which is not part of Neuwirth's agenda. "I want to continue being what we are," she says. "I like having Middle America working people come stay with us. I don't want to price myself out of my current market. It's heartbreaking when you have somebody who loves the place and they say 'We won't be able to stay there this year because we can't afford it. '"
Neuwirth's dilemma appears to be the most common among motel operators. Peter Boulahanis, owner of the Beach Crest Motel and Apartments on Ocean Drive at Virginia Street, says his taxes have tripled in one year. Like Neuwirth, he responded by raising rates, and it too has slowed business. This year, he has 11 unoccupied rooms, compared to just four at this time last year. In the 30 years he's lived on the beach, he says it's never been tougher financially.
For 15 years, Donna Boucher has owned the Manta Ray Inn on Surf Road near Foxglove Terrace, and in the past year, she's seen a 102 percent increase in property taxes. Her assessment was high because it's based on the appraiser's definition of the property's "best use," which is a building taller than the Manta Ray's two stories and filled with condos. For Boucher, the "best use" is exactly what it is. "We just want to run a small inn," she says.
Steve Welsch, who manages the DeSoto Oceanview Inn and Ocean Spray on DeSoto Street on the beach's north end, says that this will likely be the first year that the two inns failed to make a profit, thanks to dramatic increases in operating costs. Welsch, though, sees a silver lining: Maybe these trying times will drive the poorly managed motels out of business, and if his inns can stay afloat just a few more years, they'll see a windfall of profits.