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Phil McCabe Soutwest Florida hotels

Significant sales and changes for hotels in Southwest Florida had historic magnitude during the first quarter of 2022, and continue to affect the rest of the year. Naples entrepreneur Phil McCabe was in the center of it, his personal story tied to many of the local properties making headlines, including the sale of three hotels in Naples.

Inn on Fifth

The days immediately before and after the real estate transaction closed for the sale of his longtime hotel on Fifth Avenue South, McCabe fell into a deep funk. He had built and owned the iconic Inn on Fifth for more than 25 years, so his decision to sell wasn’t easy and weighed heavily on him. The normally upbeat and in-command McCabe was depressed and seemed broken.

As of 10 a.m. May 11, he was no longer the owner of the Inn on Fifth. “Seventy-two hours before the closing,” McCabe says, “it started sinking in. ‘What have I done? What am I going to do?’

“I’m obviously at the end of my game,” says McCabe, who turned 75 on May 1 and estimates that the Inn on Fifth represented 50% or 60% of his professional life. “Suddenly, it’s gone.”

McCabe purchased the 699 Fifth Ave. S. property, a former bank office, in August 1996 for $2.65 million and redeveloped commercial property across the street in 2010 to create the Club Level Suites at Inn on Fifth.

Not only has the hotel been a major part of McCabe’s life, it was a centerpiece for change on Fifth Avenue South for decades. “It turned Fifth Avenue around,” McCabe says.

“There isn’t anyone in our community that has had more of an impact on shaping Fifth Avenue South than Phil McCabe,” says Bruce Barone Jr., executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District. “His vision, dedication and stewardship of the Inn on Fifth is unparalleled. His work over the last 20 years has put us in the position we enjoy daily with guests from all over the world.”

The Inn on Fifth was a place where McCabe had been at 2 in the morning, 4 in the morning, whatever the reason necessary, to handle anything the job demanded. “When you own a hotel, you’re in it full-time. It’s open 24/7. You’re responsible for that,” McCabe says. “When you own an asset like I owned, you’ve got to make sure it’s running correctly.”

But McCabe knew this hands-on period of his career had culminated. “For sure, my operating days are over,” he says. “I’ve built four hotels and six restaurants in my career. That chapter of my life is closed.”

His decision to sell the hotel initially shocked his sons, Philip and Joseph. “They thought their dad was content for the rest of his life to operate the hotel,” McCabe says. “But they were 100% behind it. They didn’t want to operate the hotel. They each have their own careers, their own passions and interests.”

Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, a publicly traded real estate investment trust, acquired the 119-room hotel for $156 million. The boutique accommodations, which recently underwent a $5 million renovation, include two fine-dining restaurants, Truluck’s and Ocean Prime.

Pebblebrook tapped Noble House Hotels & Resorts to manage the four-star, four-diamond landmark hotel, which will be part of the Curator Hotel & Resort Collection. Pebblebrook also owns LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, while Noble House manages that North Naples property, too.

In making the announcement in late April of the then-pending sale, Jon E. Bortz, chairman, president and CEO of Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, lauded the hotel and McCabe. “The Inn on Fifth exemplifies South Florida’s effortless blend of upscale, laid-back luxury and was developed flawlessly and cared for meticulously by the current owner,” Bortz said.

It took a few days after the hotel’s sale before McCabe was ready to talk about the transition. “The closing process was incredibly complicated,” he says, mentioning that he had Washington, D.C., lawyers to handle the heavy lifting. “We had amazing professionals working through the process.”

Still, the sale took a personal toll on McCabe, at least temporarily. “I’m past it now. It was difficult, so difficult,” he says. One of the hardest parts was notifying his 99 employees, some of whom worked for him more than 20 years. “It was like family,” he says.

The good news, McCabe told his staff, is that he was going to still be working in their Inn on Fifth office for another four months, through the summer, so he wasn’t going anywhere immediately. This allowed him to move into the next phase of his life, what he refers to as starting a new book, affording more time to tend to his personal portfolio.

“I spend a lot of time on my other assets,” he says. “I got very excited about this other stuff.”

That stuff won’t include golf, which McCabe said is the perfect preoccupation for many retirees, but it’s personally not for him. Besides, he’s not exactly retiring anyway.

Inn of Naples

Denver-based Mission Hill Hospitality acquired the 99-room Inn of Naples from Dallas-based MCR for more than $15.3 million in mid-March. The hotel at 4055 Tamiami Trail is undergoing a brand changeover to the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, so all guest rooms and suites, the lobby, public and meeting spaces and its restaurant are being completely renovated.

The Inn of Naples was McCabe’s first Naples hotel, launching more than 35 years ago. “My Inn of Naples was under construction when they opened the Ritz-Carlton [Beach Resort],” he says. The Registry Resort, now the Naples Grande, opened a few months before McCabe opened Inn of Naples. The overflow from the Ritz and Registry resorts made the Inn of Naples an instant success with guests, McCabe said. “They were lined up out the door.”

Naples Grande

The Naples Grande Beach Resort also changed hands this spring. London-based Henderson Park bought the hotel at the end of March from Denver-based Northwood Hospitality for $218.4 million, plus $24.8 million for its 18-hole golf course and $4.8 million for the 15-court tennis center, according to Collier County property deeds. 

The resort at 475 Seagate Drive in Naples has 395 standard rooms and 29 tower suites with 50 villas. It includes seven restaurants/bars, 12 spa rooms and three pools spread across 23 acres. 

The upscale resort opened as The Registry Resort in the late ’80s and has changed hands a few times over the years. It was renamed Naples Grande Beach Resort before being rebranded as Waldorf Astoria Naples for a brief time. Its name reverted back to Naples Grande Beach Resort in late 2014.

Before the Naples Grande’s previous sale, McCabe tried to buy the resort years ago. “I think they wanted $195 million at that time, but I just couldn’t make the numbers work. I made an offer close to asking on it. They declined my offer and sold it for asking,” he says. “I had a plan and a vision for that. I was going to drastically change it.”

McCabe wanted to convert it into a boutique hotel with some residential residences. He was going to turn its tennis cabanas into condos, gate the property and change the look, color and everything. “I’m kind of glad they didn’t accept my offer,” he says.

Naples Beach Club

Demolition of the former Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club commenced this spring on the Gulf shore and is expected to be completed this summer to make way for redevelopment of the Naples Beach Club, a mixed-use resort that will bring a 216-room Four Seasons hotel to Naples. After operating the historic resort for 75 years, the Watkins family sold the 125-acre property to The Athens Group and Michael Dell’s MSD Partners last year for more than $362 million. 

“The Four Seasons will have a profound impact on the city of Naples,” says McCabe, noting that the high-profile project denotes the start of major redevelopment, not the density development that preceded it. “Older buildings being torn down and architecture coming in at a higher cost. That’s what you’re going to see here because of the Four Seasons. The Four Seasons is a game-changer just as the Ritz-Carlton was a game-changer.”

Because of the Four Seasons, McCabe said Rosewood Hotels & Resorts is here today with the Ronto Group’s proposal to redevelop the Mansion House cooperative next to Lowdermilk Park for luxury condominiums. “Those are the fundamental changes you’re going to see here,” he says.

More accommodations

Other hotel properties also are making news this year in Southwest Florida, including the addition of a 14-story tower and more at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples. Also notable and highly visible are massive construction projects on the Gulfshore for the sprawling 254-room Margaritaville Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach and Allegiant’s massive 785-room Sunseeker Resort in Charlotte Harbor. After experiencing extended delays, vertical construction is underway for both projects, which are expected to be completed in 2023. 

A four-story, 118-room Hampton Inn is under construction on the corner of Cleveland Avenue and McGregor Boulevard in downtown Fort Myers and expected to be completed this fall. The Ellington, a mixed-use project with a 10-story, 125-room hotel, broke ground this year at the intersection of U.S. 41 East and Davis Boulevard in East Naples. 

The eight-story Hotel Indigo, which has been renamed Banyan Hotel and rebranded as a Tapestry Collection by Hilton, has been undergoing a floor-by-floor renovation of its 67 rooms on Broadway Avenue in downtown Fort Myers. The newly renovated Wiggins Pass Chalet boutique hotel in North Naples relaunched its 14 suites this spring after being shuttered for more than five years. Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina on Fort Myers Beach is set to undergo a $7 million renovation project starting in August to upgrade its 195 guest rooms.

Other area hotel projects are in the works, including a new six-story Hampton Inn & Suites planned for Bell Tower near U.S. 41 and Daniels Parkway in south Fort Myers, and a three-story AC Marriott abutting Naples Square on the corner of U.S. 41 East and Goodlette-Frank Road in Naples.

Phil’s future

McCabe doesn’t plan to reinvest his fortune from selling the Inn on Fifth. At his age, he said, he is focused on preservation of wealth, structuring it in such a way that it’s going to have a multigenerational impact.

“All of my future has changed with my perspective,” he says. “I’m never going to leverage or step out there into the development world, risking all of my wealth. I still own great assets and land.”

The product of a blue-collar community in Boston, McCabe at age 27 invested his life savings of $25,000 to buy a bankrupt hotel in Maine, creating a multimillion-dollar business. Today, he’s the largest property owner in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he owns a home and 62 acres. “I’ve owned it for years and years, some for 40 or 50 years,” he says. “I’m immediate neighbors to the Bushes.”

McCabe still has property in Naples, too. He has the ground-floor retail spaces below the Residences at 5th & 5th and nearly the entire block behind the parking garage on Fourth Avenue South. He doesn’t have plans there for the moment after recently completely renovating an 11-unit apartment complex there. He also is building a hangar at Naples Airport tied to a large office building he will have there. When he says his final farewell at the hotel, that’s where he will move his office for Gulf Coast Commercial, the company he has owned for 30 years. “That’s the company I used to develop a lot of what we did over the years,” he says.

McCabe also co-owns 250 acres on the northern tip of Anguilla, a Caribbean island that’s a British overseas territory. He and co-owner Kevin Stoneburner, the developer of Bayfront Naples, are in the process of getting land-use entitlements now with the government of Anguilla. The Ritz-Carlton is interested in their planned development, which is subdivided into lots, condos and single-family residences. “The Ritz-Carlton has agreed they would like to be there in one of the subdivisions on 26 acres with two 18-story buildings—condos and a hotel,” McCabe says. He notes that Four Seasons has a hotel on the other side of the island.

“The point is, I’m not going to go off and play golf or go fishing,” he says. “If I want to do something, I have plenty.”

Naples icon expands: Putting more on the Ritz

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples refers to its addition of a 14-story tower and other luxury amenities this year as “the evolution of an icon.” The beachfront resort’s most notable makeover in nearly a decade truly earns a place in its storied history.

The Naples opening of the Ritz-Carlton beach resort in December 1985 was monumental by all accounts. “It really launched Naples, that Ritz-Carlton. It laid the foundation for the wealthy coming to Naples,” says Naples entrepreneur and longtime hotelier Phil McCabe. “The Ritz-Carlton laid the groundwork.

“The Ritz-Carlton came here because of W.B. Johnson, who had a home here and had a relationship with Westinghouse, which was developing Pelican Bay.”

Atlanta businessman William B. Johnson, who ironically made his fortune with the Waffle House restaurant chain, bought the first hotel and the Ritz-Carlton name in Boston before building additional locations in Atlanta; Buckhead, Georgia; and Laguna Niguel, California. The Naples hotel was the fifth for the Ritz-Carlton, which sets the standard for hotel luxury.

Westinghouse wanted the Ritz-Carlton to anchor the Pelican Bay waterfront community that the company created just north of the city of Naples on more than 2,300 acres it purchased from Barron Collier. Coral Ridge Properties, a division of Westinghouse that became WCI, offered a piece of beachfront property on the northern end of Pelican Bay to Johnson for the hotel about 40 years ago. “They wanted the Ritz-Carlton there,” McCabe says. “Then, they anchored the southern end [of Pelican Bay] with the Registry Resort (now Naples Grande Beach Resort) with a group out of Texas.”

McCabe had a front row seat for the early development. “I bought pre-construction in the Remington high-rise in Bay Colony. I was actually living in the first high-rise at Bay Colony at the time,” he says. “I had the opportunity to buy the land where the Remington sits from WCI for a hotel next to the Ritz. I’m pretty sure it was $5 million.” The transaction didn’t transpire, but the rest is history, as they say.

The Ritz-Carlton continues to lead the way in the evolving hospitality market in Naples. Its new tower rising on the local horizon is part of a $50 million renovation project targeted for completion in December. The addition on the southwest side of the beachfront hotel is being built in place of a former swimming pool.

“We’re really taking the leadership role,” says Mark Ferland, area general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples. “This iconic resort has always been really one of the crown jewels of the Ritz-Carlton brand for almost four decades. It was already an iconic and revered property but we’re really transforming it into an even greater experience. We’re creating a new legacy for many years to come.”

The Ritz-Carlton embraces the historic opportunity to take its iconic property in Naples and redefine it from a luxury perspective, Ferland said. The resort’s new 101,334-square-foot tower addition rises more than 157 feet. A lobby with a mezzanine on the second level will welcome guests to the five-star, five-diamond resort’s 474 rooms and suites, including its dozen new 1,478-square-foot three-bay suites.

“It’s the largest transformation project in the history of the Ritz-Carlton brand certainly outside of a new build or a new hotel being constructed. So, we really stand ready to transform this distinguished resort,” Ferland says. “Really, each purposeful step has been undertaken to assure our legacy is preserved and that the Ritz-Carlton Naples continues to be a global leader in the luxury space.”

The Ritz actually paves the way for another luxury resort brand such as Four Seasons to desire to be in Naples. “Naples is such a desirable leisure location. Whether it’s arts or shopping or fine dining, it’s just become such a luxury destination,” Ferland says. “It’s really perfect to have more luxury hotels.”

The Ritz-Carlton’s latest addition includes a dramatic transformation of its guest suites, which Ferland describes as a personal sanctuary. “We have a unique suite product which is, basically, a bi-level suite,” Ferland says. “So, you’ll enter in the parlor area then you’ll go down the stairs and you’ll be into your secluded bedroom experience. We’re already getting a lot of interest in those suites.”

More than half of the new three-bedroom ocean view royal suites that the resort recently launched in its new south tower are already booked for the week starting Dec. 26, he said. When the transformation is unveiled at the end of the year, the Ritz will have 92 new suites and a Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge.

“The Club is really unique in that it will be unlike any in the brand, because it’s going to be close to 4,000 square feet with really dramatic floor-to-ceiling views of the Gulf of Mexico,” Ferland says. “It will be off the lobby on the first floor. It will have seven to eight of its own terraces so a family can have breakfast out there and just enjoy the Gulf of Mexico and the views. It’s going to be very highly personalized with an individual bar, so we’ll have a craft cocktail program just for the guests staying on the Club level.” 

One level below the Club will be the resort’s new restaurant, Sofra, which will also launch in December. “Sofra is going to be our eastern Mediterranean-style new restaurant featuring a very vegetable-forward menu, very inspired by a little more healthier eating again,” Ferland says. “In the evening, it will have beautiful fresh fish, a very Mediterranean-style menu.”

The resort is transforming its outdoor amenities, as well. “We’re building not only an adult pool but a lap pool that’s connected right onto it with spectacular bungalows and private cabanas—really unlike anything in the marketplace today,” Ferland says. “The bungalows will have private bathrooms, showers and air conditioning—really a very, very special, unique experience.”

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