A vacation hotspot for the rich, Marco Island is under the gun when it comes to affordable housing.
By Stacie Kress Booker
Barely six miles long and four miles wide, tiny Marco Island has no problem housing the tourists looking for a sojourn on its white-sand beaches and Gulf waters. Some of Collier County's largest employers are the hotels on the island. But when it comes to finding affordable housing for the workers in those hotels, there is literally no room at the inn.
Housing on the island, home to many wealthy retirees and families looking for a safe, small-town feel, is becoming ever more pricey. Median home prices are now in the mid-$200,000s. And luxury high-rise condominiums are sprouting all along Collier Boulevard, the island's main road. One, Ocean Beach Resort, sold 75% of its units priced from $260,000 to $480,000. Affordable rental units on the island, increasingly rare, cost between $750 to $1,000 a month. Most workers hoping to find anything even remotely affordable must look off-island, where a two-bedroom apartment can be found for $500 to $700 a month -- still too expensive for service sector workers making about $1,200 a month.
The issue has taken on added significance because the city, in its third year of incorporation, must file a "Comprehensive Plan" with the state, which mandates provisions for affordable housing. "When you look at the guidelines provided by the state in terms of what housing units would qualify ... in terms of product available, you'd be hard-pressed to find any area on Marco," says Greg Niles, director of community development for Marco Island.
Niles says he is working on a proposed agreement between the city and Collier County that he hopes will meet the state's requirements. The agreement would incorporate Marco's geographic area into the county's urban-housing program, making Marco eligible for state housing funds. More important, the agreement allows the city to meet its affordable-housing requirements off-island. The city would contribute 10% of its annual building permit fees or $50,000, whichever is greater, to a county housing trust fund that doles out money to eligible projects. One caveat: The county's housing program is home ownership-based, which may not meet the needs of workers making $7 to $8 an hour who are unable to purchase a home.
For their part, local hotels have set up programs to aid their lower-paid workers. Marriott and Radisson, for instance, help house entry-level employees in off-island rental units. Marriott leases 11 apartments in east Naples and rents them to employees for $275 per person. Radisson offers a similar package with a steeper discount. Hilton Hotel doesn't have a program but said it is considering its options.
While the problem isn't unique to Marco Island, the clock is ticking. The city-county agreement is a key element of its "comp plan," which has to be submitted before the end of the year.
In the News
Collier County -- Collier County faces a glut of building permit applications and too few building inspectors. County Commissioners voted in January to increase road impact fees, effective April 1. The county expected a surge in permitting activity but got more than it anticipated. From October to April, 86,000 building inspections were requested. County commissioners approved hiring three more inspectors and can add three more as needed. Road impact fees rose 86% for residential building.
Clearwater -- Sterile Recoveries (Nasdaq-STRC) is hopeful that an agreement with German surgical instrument-maker, Aesculap, to distribute, sterilize and repackage laparoscopic instruments to U.S. hospitals will boost its lagging stock price. The company's stock has fallen from its 52-week high of $12.25 to about $6.25. The company, which posted sales of $68.6 million last year, provides reusable surgical gowns and supplies to hospitals but has met stiff competition from medical supply powerhouses such as Johnson & Johnson.
Lakeland -- Keymark Florida expects its newly expanded manufacturing facility to be fully operational next month. The Fonda, N.Y.-based aluminum extrusion company added 45,000 square feet partly to accommodate a new 2,200-ton aluminum extrusion press. The expansion adds 45 jobs to the existing 95. The plant opened less than two years ago with three employees.
Polk County -- Polk County is investing $43 million in road and sidewalk improvements. The County Board of Commissioners approved the funding as part of its Transportation Short-term Program, which will repave about 60 miles of roadway, put down 14 sidewalks and upgrade 70 intersections.
Sarasota -- Bonita Springs-based Watermark Communities Inc. bought a two-acre site downtown next to the Ritz-Carlton hotel under construction. WCI plans to develop a 17-story, 82-unit luxury condominium whose residents will have access to hotel amenities. A similar service relationship exists between another WCI condominium, The Remington, and Ritz-Carlton, Naples.
Clubhouse Publishing, the publisher of upscale Sarasota magazine, is buying Gulfshore Communications of Naples from the Sun-Sentinel News Group. Clubhouse plans to increase the size and scope of current Gulfshore publications as well as add new titles. Naples-based Gulfshore Media will produce the publications.
St. Petersburg -- Downtown's BayWalk project, scheduled to open this fall, suffered a couple of blows. Both The Gap and the Ruby Tuesdays restaurant chain announced they will not join the lineup at the retail and entertainment complex. The Sembler Co. had hoped The Gap would attract other retailers to the development. So far, the announced tenant list is heavy on food establishments but light on retail.
Heavy-hitters were on hand recently for the ribbon cutting at Ceridian Benefits Services' new corporate headquarters, a 400,000-sq.-ft. facility on 51 acres. The company spent nearly three years refurbishing the former Florida Power complex just south of the city's downtown. It will house 2,000 employees of the benefits administration services firm. City officials and parent company, Minneapolis-based Ceridian Corp.'s board of directors attended the event.
Tampa -- SBC Communications expects to have 200 employees at its new telecommunications center in Tampa this month and increase staffing to 800 by 2001. San Antonio-based SBC's first facility in Florida is part of a national expansion plan that includes introducing service in several Florida markets. It will offer local and long-distance telephone service as well as voice and data first in Miami and Fort Lauderdale this fall. Service in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Orlando and West Palm Beach is slated for the second quarter of next year.
Tampa Bay Water says all systems are go for the county's planned desalination plant despite the financial troubles of one of its developers, Stone & Webster. Tampa Bay Water functions as a wholesaler for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
From Bench to Bedside
Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute continues to extend its reach and its research. The National Cancer Institute recently awarded Moffitt a five-year, $5.7-million grant, Moffitt's largest ever. The money is earmarked for research in molecular targeting, the identification of the molecule or molecules responsible for tumor growth. The grant will enable the center to move beyond laboratory research and conduct clinical trials. Separately, Moffitt's outreach activities in South America have paid off. The center recently partnered with Fundacion Accion Onco-Hematologica in Buenos Aires, Argentina to collaborate on clinical studies, educational programs and research. With all the new activity, groundbreaking for a new research facility, set for this fall, comes just in time. Moffitt plans to build the 300,000-sq.-ft., $117.8-million tower at its Tampa campus.