March 25, 2023


Just Do Travel

Hotel rises as Mexico Beach recovers from Hurricane Michael

MEXICO Beach front, Fla. (AP) — Standing on the deck of the new Driftwood Inn, 3½ years soon after Hurricane Michael obliterated the old a person, Tom Wooden spoke of the months following the storm.

One of his daughters experienced urged him and his wife, Peggy, to pocket the insurance coverage money and leave the lodge powering.

The Driftwood was a nest of splintered wooden and ruined historical past then: photos, receipts, mattresses, tables, chairs, all tumbled with each other and streaked with mold. A 14-foot flood and 150 mph winds experienced dismantled Mexico Beach front, turning the gulf-front oasis into a 3-mile discipline of rubble.

Now 82, Tom was addressing a few dozen company for the hotel’s ceremonial reopening the initial weekend of June. The deck where by they sat was 8 toes off the ground, component of a developing perched atop 97 concrete and rebar columns — bigger to keep away from another flood, sturdier to blunt the wind.

Mexico Beach front was house to four inns and motels in advance of Michael. The Driftwood, three tales significant with 23 rooms, is the first to appear back, a image of the city’s ongoing restoration. It is taller, stronger — and additional pricey.

Rebuilding from Michael price tag about $13 million, according to Tom, extra than double the approximately $5 million they got from insurance policy.

Purple martins flitted and ducked into birdhouses off the deck. Little waves rolled into the white sand. Tom, clutching a microphone, wore a straw hat, pearl earring and Hawaiian shirt.

These initially guests were not shelling out. They ended up men and women the Woods desired to thank — architects and builders, relatives and pals (old and new) who sent provides or picked as a result of the wreckage.

At the rear of Tom, on the western edge of town, the trees have been shadows of Michael, bare and bent, silhouetted by the fading sunlight.

The Woods experienced not left.

“I want to construct a monument to the city of Mexico Beach front,” Tom said, pondering back again. “I want to leave a legacy.

“And we have.”

At daybreak on Oct. 10, 2018, Mexico Beach was a vision of previous Florida. Concrete-block duplexes, level with the sand, lined streets that finished in the dunes. There was a espresso store, a components retailer, a pier.

By nightfall, the town experienced been shattered. The storm ripped off roofs and floated them hundreds of feet inland, onto the two lanes of U.S. 98. The Woods’ resort hung in a point out of semi-collapse, awaiting a wrecking crew to deliver the ultimate punch.

They hadn’t acknowledged what rebuilding would value. $3 million? $10 million? Their monthly bill soared as months dragged and the pandemic produced workers and resources scarcer. Tom and Peggy compensated for blueprints of the new inn, which their daughter Shawna stated “looks like the previous Driftwood grew up.” They paid to retain a several people on staff. They compensated for concrete in the parking ton, metallic on the roof and tile on the flooring. They paid for just about every chair, sink and rest room.

The relatives offered other properties — an office constructing in Atlanta, a pizza shop in Mexico Beach — to pump far more dollars into the inn.

All-around the Driftwood’s skeleton, the city’s true estate current market, as in the relaxation of Florida, started off to boom.

Today, vibrant new multi-tale households, lifted on stilts, soar higher than vacant loads sprouting weeds. Vacation rental indicators dangle out front.

Mexico Seashore has not regained its pier, but the marina is flush with boaters. The city has a gasoline station, way too. And a Subway.

The inn sits on 5 beachfront tons. A 50 %-mile down the highway, a one vacant ton is on the sector for $1.2 million.

“There utilised to be a residence below,” the listing reads, “so h2o and sewer faucet expenses have been compensated.”

The “For Sale” indications and open up land brim with prospects — for some.

Just about every longtime resident knows mates who have been compelled out. They did not have the dollars, the insurance coverage or in some situations the stamina to slog by rebuilds.

The town had generally attracted out-of-towners on the lookout for 2nd homes, largely from Georgia. Now people arrive from farther absent and rent to vacationers until finally they can retire. Some pay back dollars.

Shawna, 56, who will run the new Driftwood, said there are no economical households for retail store clerks and bartenders. She believes which is why she just can’t fill two housekeeper positions or discover a portion-time desk employee.

Her very own daughter, not able to protect rent, has moved 25 minutes away to Callaway.

“We’re no lengthier a sleepy very little village,” Tom mentioned. “We got so considerably publicity following the hurricane.”

The new Driftwood’s doors are significant. The glass is thick. Slick, modern-day home furniture fills every place, in its place of hand-picked antiques. Touchscreen pads have changed keys.

Summertime rooms will price among $325 and $425, about 2 times as a lot as right before the storm. When Shawna posted the rates on Fb, some people today commented that they couldn’t wait. Some others claimed they couldn’t pay for it.

Just after the rebuild, Peggy, 81, reported this is what the spouse and children has to do. They’ll pass up some of the regulars who manufactured the Driftwood so exclusive. They purchased the primary inn for $138,000 in 1975, when it had only eight models.

They nevertheless really do not know how a lot their flood and wind insurance will cost, or home taxes. Liability insurance plan is up to $17,000 a yr, about double what they used to fork out, Shawna claimed.

The previous couple several years, Tom and Peggy’s young ones fretted that their parents wouldn’t stay to see the lodge reopen.

Peggy was in a wheelchair for the first weekend just after breaking her hip. Tom bounced all-around, shaking hands and leaning on his polished wood cane. He sipped Food plan Cokes and Coors Lights, noting imperfections, like a stain in which water dripped on the siding. He identified as for assist when the elevator broke down.

Bart, 59, considered his dad looked youthful, as if the problem of rebuilding had presented Tom life.

A main group of Mexico Seaside people confirmed up in the course of the opening weekend to fete the Driftwood’s rebirth with heaping plates of gumbo, shrimp, oysters and cake.

Nevertheless the metropolis — and hotel — have changed radically, the folks who managed to remain don’t converse so fearfully about Mexico Seashore getting rid of its charm any more.

“If people today are living right here, they’ve acquired the heartbeat,” mentioned Cathey Parker Hobbs, a descendant of a metropolis founder.

“You just can’t despise folks for getting an chance to arrive in and uncover their dream,” reported Michael Scoggins, co-operator of Killer Seafood, a cafe down the street that serves po’boys out of a personalized trailer bought following the storm.

Bart appeared all around the Driftwood’s roomy activities home, decorated with hanging wooden boats. Above the gumbo table, he spotted a model schooner he built when he was about 14.

“There’s even now a good deal of historical past right here,” he said.

The Woods’ fingerprints are in all places, at least for individuals who know in which to seem: fanciful white cornices, paintings by Tom, a whimsical birdhouse assortment.

“I’m hoping the Driftwood can produce that friendly sensation,” Peggy claimed, like a bridge to the Mexico Seashore that existed before Michael.

Fifty years in the past, the Driftwood was a desire.

Peggy remaining Atlanta for Mexico Seaside, wherever her small children could not skip faculty without the need of their mother obtaining out.

Bart, Shawna and Brandy pitched in by cleaning rooms.

Brandy, who pushed her mom and dad to offer following Michael, was tidying up for opening weekend when her very own little ones remarked that she had appear comprehensive circle.

At 55, on the again end of a career in corporate The us, Brandy seems forward to arranging events at the new Driftwood, these as bingo evenings and bachelorette functions. She and her spouse were married at the previous inn.

The Wood youngsters all have houses in Mexico Seaside. Christmases, they’ll invest at the resort.

On Saturday of opening weekend, Brandy woke about 5:30 a.m. and drove to the Driftwood. A woman sat in the lobby with her doggy, waiting around for coffee. Brandy apologized.

She lined up reclining chairs, $475 apiece, along the deck and dabbed at wine stains from the evening before. She laid out breakfast.

Brandy seemed in excess of the seaside and watched puffy clouds pad the horizon. She felt the gulf breeze. She stared at the water, and she did not see a ripple.


Moments staff members writer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report.