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 Hurricanes Knock Out Up to 20% of Melbourne,
Florida Area's 10,000 Hotel Rooms

The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 29, 2004 - MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. -- The trio of hurricanes that hammered Central Florida damaged scores of hotels, with Jeanne being especially brutal on small, family-owned motels lining Brevard County's barrier islands.

In Melbourne Shores in south Brevard, the storm surge overwhelmed soft sand dunes on which many of the motels are perched against the edge of the ocean.

At the Surfcaster Motel, manager Teresa Marquez walked behind the small motel on Tuesday and stopped where the grass dropped off 4 feet to the beach below.

"You see where we're standing?" she said. "Last week, we could walk out another 36 feet."

The storm stole a concrete patio and steps leading to the beach.

"I just finished paying for those steps on Saturday morning, and by Saturday night they were gone," said the motel's co-owner, Susanne Chancey.

Despite the damage, Chancey's motel was open Tuesday with generator power, one of the only motels operating for miles. It sits farther back from the beach than many of its neighbors, so the motel sustained less damage than surrounding ones. Still, each hurricane brings the motel closer to the water.

Rob Varley, executive director for the Space Coast Office of Tourism, said that while many small motels were hit hard, the county's total stock of hotel rooms was not reduced all that much by Jeanne.

Charley and Frances knocked out probably 20 percent of 10,000 rooms, Varley estimated, and Jeanne likely boosted that to 25 percent.

Volusia County probably had 25 percent of its 14,000 beachside hotel rooms out of commission because of the storms before Jeanne, and the total probably did not go up that much after Jeanne, said Tangela Boyd, Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"Overall, Jeanne was not as damaging as Frances for our hotels" in east Volusia, Boyd said. "Beach erosion is the bigger concern," she said.

Eroded beaches are less appealing to visitors, and homes, condos, hotels and motels are more vulnerable to future storm damage, Brevard's Varley said. As a result, he said, the office will press for nearly $20 million from the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up beach replenishment.

"All along the Space Coast, we need it," Varley said, because more beach means protection.

The Sea Grape Motel, just up the road from the Surfcaster, was built closer to the beach and fared worse than the Surfcaster. Sand beneath many of the guestrooms was swept away. The roof was ripped off, blocking the driveway.

A nearby motel owned in part by Gus and Patty Manouselis, the Sandy Shoes in Melbourne Beach, suffered a similar fate. The surf ate away 30 feet of dunes, so one corner of the motel hangs 6 to 7 feet over the cliff. The hotel is closed indefinitely, and Gus Manouselis said he is unsure whether he and his partners will rebuild.

"We're waiting for the county to come look at it, so we'll see what they say. If they give us a permit to rebuild the dune the right way, we'll probably be able to save the building. But I don't think that will happen," he said.

Farther inland, the metro Orlando area took hits to many major hotels, with a range of wind or water damage to roofs, walls and carpets. But representatives of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association in Orlando are still surveying members and have no estimate of rooms lost.

The Holiday Inn in downtown Orlando, knocked out of commission by Hurricane Charley in August, closed all 276 rooms. A representative of Holiday Inn's owner, InterContinental Hotels, said the high-rise should reopen Nov. 1.

Many hotels have large sections that are not usable. The Crowne Plaza Orlando Airport, for example, has about 200 of 353 rooms closed. The first damage was from Charley, with the atrium's exterior glass of its double-paned windows shattered.

Hurricane Frances caused more damage and slowed repairs. Jeanne was even worse, pulling off roof repairs and flooding previously undamaged rooms on the top floors of the 10-story building.

The string of hurricanes put the repair work back to square one. "We didn't make any progress, per se," said Kellie Hull, general manager.

Hull said she hopes to have the atrium area reopened by Thanksgiving.

Some other major hotels in the Orlando and Lake Buena Vista areas that sustained damage include the Marriott Orlando Downtown, with a cracked fašade; the Grosvenor, with water damage to at least 30 rooms and the lobby; the Wyndham Palace Resort & Spa with water damage in the restaurant; and the DoubleTree at Walt Disney Resort, with a hole in one side of the building.

By Sean Mussenden and Jerry W. Jackson. Todd Pack and Tom Burton of the Sentinel staff contributed.

-----To see more of The Orlando Sentinel -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.OrlandoSentinel.com. (c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. IHG, HLT, DIS, WBR, MAR,

 
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