One thing is clear: Change is coming for Hollywood beach.
With construction of a $147 million resort set to begin next month, gone will be the playground and open area — and the throwback vibe — tourists and locals currently enjoy at Johnson Street and the beach.
It’s being replaced by Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, a 349-room hotel complete with seven restaurants and bars, several pools including one in the shape of a flip-flop, and a double surf FlowRider for anyone wanting to hit the waves but not really wanting to go to the beach.
Harvey Hopkins has been coming to the beach every day for 45 years. From his perch on the silver bleachers across from the Johnson Street Bandshell, he surveys the scene: some locals sit outside enjoying happy hour at a beachfront bar; joggers and bicycle riders zoom by on the Broadwalk, and sun worshipers stretch out on the sand.
“To me, the beach is kind of sleepy,” he said. “Something needs to be done to wake it up.”
But Hollywood beach resident Wade Hughes likes it exactly as it is now.
“I don’t go to South Beach or Fort Lauderdale Beach because it’s too crowded,” said Hughes, enjoying a slice from Rocco’s Pizza on Johnson Street. “This is the last locals’ beach there is.”
Local historian Paul George, who often gives walking tours of the beach, said Johnson Street reminds him of “a town of yesteryear.”
“Margaritaville threatens to radically change that,” he said, adding the verdict is out on whether it’s a change for the good or bad.
“Only time will tell,” George said.
Perhaps the best example of a transformation from a 1950s throwback to a resort destination is visible just five miles to the south.
Less than two decades ago, Sunny Isles Beach was a neighborhood of two-story mom-and-pop hotels, with names like Thunderbird and Golden Nugget, and outside decor that included camels and a lighthouse. It’s where Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner spent their honeymoon.
Today, luxury condos and upscale hotels line the nearly two miles of beachfront. The Trump International Beach Resort soars 30-plus stories above the ocean. Close by is the five-star Acqualina Resort & Spa.
“The development has transformed the city from a sleepy retirement community to a very upscale, sophisticated urban center,” said Sunny Isles Beach Mayor Norman Edelcup. He added that the beach development has improved the rest of the city, adding parks and even a school.
Margaritaville is a good first step for Hollywood, Edelcup said. “They really need to capitalize on the beachfront,” he added.
Proponents for Jimmy Buffett’s paradise — flowing drinks, toes in the sand and tanned beauties — say Margaritaville is a good fit for Hollywood.
The resort will help put Hollywood on the map, suggested Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Margaritaville is going to be the key to further the tourism infrastructure on the beach,” she said.
While Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort will bring a new twist to the beach, city leaders say they will work hard to maintain the charm of what’s there. The beloved bandshell, where people gather nightly to dance or just listen to the music, will stay.