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The secret is out.

Naples could soon boast a five-star Four Seasons resort. 

While Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts hasn’t publicly announced its interest yet, The Athens Group has confirmed it has a letter of intent for the world-renowned brand to operate the five-star resort that will replace the landmark Naples Beach Hotel.

“Four Seasons’ destination resort hotels and residences are unsurpassed, and we believe this unique location in Naples deserves nothing less,” said Kim Richards, CEO of The Athens Group, in a statement. 

“While the operating agreement is still in development, Four Seasons shares Athens’ vision for creating exceptional experiences for our resort guests and residents, as well as our Naples neighbors,” he said. 

The revelation comes as The Athens Group’s purchase of the current hotel draws near. The closing on the entire 125-acre property, including the golf course and tennis center, is set for the end of May.

The developer plans to replace the current hotel with a smaller, more upscale resort, and to build what it has described as “best-in-class” residential condos on both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard, with elevated amenities that will include golf and tennis.

In an email, Jordanna Gualtieri, an associate vice president for KWT Global, the public relations agency for Four Seasons, would only confirm that the brand “evaluates various growth markets around the world on a regular basis” and it’s “always exploring opportunities in new destinations.”

According to its website, in 2020 Four Seasons signed agreements for nine new hotel, resort and residential projects, despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, “tying a record for the most new deals in the company’s 60-year history.”

Aerial of the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. (Photo: Courtesy: Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club)

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One of the more recent projects Four Seasons has announced is in Italy’s southern region of Puglia, where the company plans to develop an all-new resort with views from Italy’s Adriatic coast.

Four Seasons has recently expanded its presence in Tokyo and San Francisco, as well as making what it describes as a “spectacular return” to Thailand’s capital in Bangkok.

< p class="p-text">“With each new property, our goal is to create the best luxury experience in that market by offering a product of exceptional quality combined with unparalleled service. Each new hotel, resort and residence is a unique reflection of its local market, while also representing the future of what Four Seasons will deliver for years to come,” said Christian Clerc, the brand’s president of global operations, in an update about the company’s growth plans last month.

While Four Seasons is expected to service the residences at the new Naples Beach Club development, The Athens Group has not yet confirmed whether they’ll carry the same brand as the resort.

According to its website, Four Seasons entered into branded residential offerings more than 35 years ago — and “nearly 90% of upcoming openings and pipeline developments include a residential component.” 

Four Seasons is one of only a few hospitality companies that also acts as a property manager for its residential owners.

The brand’s interest in Naples comes as welcome news to community supporters of the redevelopment project, first announced back in 2018.

“They can only improve the dynamic of the hospitality industry, as well as the neighborhood. I see it only as a positive. I see absolutely zero negative to that whatsoever,” said Joe McCabe, vice president of development at Gulf Coast Commercial Corp. in Naples.

Four Seasons enters market with two Ritz-Carlton’s

He said a Four Seasons resort would go hand-in-hand with recent and planned improvements to the area’s two Ritz-Carlton’s, designed to take both properties up a notch, and high-end hoteliers he’s talked to in town aren’t worried about the new competition. 

He likened the situation to a CVS locating near a Walgreens. Rather than cannibalizing each other’s business, the high-end resorts can feed off each other, generating more economic benefits for the local economy, as competing pharmacies do, McCabe said.

“It’s all responsible development, tailored to a higher-end feel. That’s my opinion,” he said.

City leaders reached for this story see the planned involvement of Four Seasons as good news too.

Terry Hutchison, the city’s vice mayor, said it would be “a very good sign for the Naples community.”

“The Four Seasons brand is a very well-known brand worldwide, a respected brand, and something I’m sure Naples would be proud to have in the community,” he said. “When you look at how Four Seasons has maintained their brand and the amenities — and the execution of their operations — it’s nothing but good.” 

He commended the developer’s efforts to continue working with the community to address ongoing concerns about some of the project’s finer details that have yet to be worked out, including proposed changes to the golf course and green space The Athens Group has committed to preserve.

“I think that these guys are serious about putting together a five-star resort, and a project that will be a star for the city of Naples,” Hutchison said. “And probably the last remaining issue now, the biggest issue, is the golf course, and what the outcome will be, for that piece of property.”  

Like Hutchison, fellow Councilman Gary Price said Naples would be fortunate to attract another high-end brand such as Four Seasons.

“If Four Seasons is the brand, then I think that is a wonderful message to this community that I think we can be proud of,” he said. “Having the ability to attract such a terrific brand, a quality brand.” 

While a Four Seasons may not have as profound of an effect on tourism and real estate as the opening of the first Ritz-Carlton in the Naples area decades ago, Price said a Four Seasons has the potential to draw new attention and new interest from the affluent around the world.

“We’re in a different place than we were when the Ritz came here,” he said. 

While he welcomes the idea of having a Four Seasons in Naples, Price said one of his biggest worries is how to “preserve the charm of what the property has meant to the community over the decades,” and to keep it “inclusive” so residents can still enjoy its golf course and other amenities at a reasonable price.

“It’s a private property and I think sometimes we lose sight of that, but I believe Athens’ intent has always been to make it good neighbors and make it part of this community,” he said. “I don’t know that Four Seasons takes away from that. That’s certainly a good brand.”

Still, Price said he wonders how the overall project will fit into the fabric of the community. 

“I just don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody knows.”

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