|By Dan Mearns, The Sun, Port Charlotte, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 19, 2004 - PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Damage caused by Hurricane Charley and inflicted by looters after the storm has rendered the Punta Gorda Holiday Inn uninhabitable, and the structure will be demolished early next month.
Before then, the salvageable contents of the hotel and the in-house Coconuts Restaurant will sold at public auction. The sale will take place at 10 a.m. Oct. 30 and 31 in the parking lot of the hotel on the Punta Gorda side of the northbound U.S. 41 bridge over Charlotte Harbor. The hotel items will be sold the first day, a Saturday, and the restaurant items the second day.
"We're looking to rebuild," said Mike Neves, who had been operating Coconuts restaurant in the hotel for about a year when the storm hit, "but the process takes time. We're trying to get a sense from the city on how to go about it."
Neves said certain restrictions relating to potential flooding and occupancy, passed after the hotel was built, may prevent it from being rebuilt in the same way.
"We can't have as a many rooms as we had before," he said.
Fireline Restoration Inc., the general contracting firm that is preparing the structure for demolition, has had better luck with the city. On Monday, Fireline superintendent Cathy Thompson was in the process of getting city officials to sign the necessary permits that would allow the demolition to proceed.
The company sent units throughout the state following the hurricanes.
"We tear 'em down and put 'em back up," said Thompson, who heads up company operations for Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, Harbour Heights and Cape Coral out of a mobile office in the Holiday Inn parking lot.
Thompson said Fireline would subcontract the actual demolition to another firm. She said the hotel suffered major roof damage and interior water damage.
The demolition will cost $600,000, Neves said, adding the hotel's insurance company only wants to pay "a fraction" of that amount. It is one of a number of insurance problems shared by Neves and John Zacari, director of operations for Gold Key Investments, which owns the property.
"We're not getting what we should be getting," Neves said. "In some respects, the restaurant is getting nothing."
Zacari said he expected the rebuilding to take at least 18 months and believed the hotel will remain a Holiday Inn, but nothing was certain with city government and insurance questions pending.
"Exactly what our plan is right now I can't say," said Neves. "It's a frustrating time."
On the auction block Oct. 30 will be hotel items such as air conditioners, TVs and TV armoires, tables, chairs, sofas, beds, nightstands, pictures, lamps, industrial washers and dryers, linens, bedding, doors, screens, windows, mirrors, cash registers, a thatched tiki hut and bar, pool and patio furniture, shelving, palm trees and landscaping.
Restaurant items to be sold the next day include deep fryers, ovens, grills, dishes, commercial sinks and dishwashers, barware, glasses, flatware, toasters, coolers, water fountains, freezers, pots and pans, condiments, spices, dry goods, booths, tables, chairs, a bar, framed art, a mounted tarpon and dolphin, fax machines and cash registers.
Scott Auctions, a Fort Myers-based company headed by the husband and wife auctioneering team of Bruce and Karen Scott, will be conducting the sale. Scott, who has been holding auctions in Southwest Florida since 1981 and has been a real estate broker since 1979, specializes in business liquidations, estate auctions, and real estate auctions. Karen Scott has served as an auction general manager, clerk, cashier, and ringwoman since 1995, and she also has an auctioneer's license.
Although much of the contents of the hotel and restaurant were saved, much more were lost, and not all of it due to Charley.
"Looters came in and stole the copper piping from the water system," Scott said. "They sawed through the three-inch pipe. Water went everywhere and caused mold and mildew to overrun many sections of the hotel."
Scott said thieves stole at least a half-dozen television sets and even got away with two flagpoles outside the building. He said police were keeping people away from the hotel.
"Everybody has to be out by 4 o'clock," he said. "That's why we're having a two-day sale."
"No one will be allowed on the premises until the day of the sale," Karen Scott said.
Karen Scott said people interested in examining the items prior to the sale should arrive by 9 a.m. on the days of the auction.
A complete list of the items, along with photos of many of them, are available on the Scott Auctions Web site at www.scottauctions.com, and you can also call 888-283-7058 for more information. Scott Auctions accepts cash, personal checks (with a valid Florida driver license) and credit cards.
The hotel supported two other businesses that are no more: Lucy's Lockets boutique and gift shop, located inside the building, and the Mid-Island Family Marina outside. The marina was "wiped out," according to Capt. Howard Shutzman, who ran a tackle shop in the marina and served as assistant dock master. Four boats were also destroyed.
"Before the storm, we were three-quarters full," said marina manager and dock master Bill Taolicelli, "with about 35 or 36 boats."
"We were the only marina in the area that allowed people to stay on the boats overnight," said Shutzman. "Now there are none."
The two mariners said the rebuilding of the dock would have to await construction of a new hotel, since marina necessities such as electricity and water for bathrooms and showers were tied to the hotel.
"Everything's at a standstill right now," said Shutzman.
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