It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.
— Jimmy Buffett
The Maestro of Margaritaville took to the stage for a soggy beach-blanket blowout in Hollywood on Saturday afternoon, signaling to many who grew up and live in this humble, once-sleepy beach town that the tides have forever changed.
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As the sun dropped and the rain drifted out to sea, thousands of people massed along the Broadwalk in front of Margaritaville for the official grand opening of the Buffett-themed resort that now stands as the beach’s new centerpiece. The $150 million attraction offers more than just 349 rooms, eight bars and a spa — it’s also a beacon of hope that this snowbird paradise will at last become a first-class tourist destination.
“Let’s put the top down on this place!” Buffett shouted to kick off the one and a half-hour free concert.
The high-tech, slickly produced Live Nation Jimmy Buffett concert production — bigger and louder than anything Hollywood beach has ever seen before — was greeted by veteran Parrotheads and Hollywood locals but did not come without controversy; residents took to social media in the days before to decry what some criticized as a VIP-only exclusive event.
But most of the stage was visible, and by the time Buffett took the stage at 4:30 p.m. it was already 5 o’clock somewhere. The complaints had, for the most part, been drowned down with a few beers, some shots of tequila and Buffett magic.
Two mammoth digital screens were erected on the sand, towering over the beach’s iconic little Bandshell, one of the last remnants of old Hollywood that locals have stubbornly fought to keep from the wrecking ball of progress.
“I finally get to play the Bandshell,” Buffett joked from his perch across the Broadwalk from the old beach stage.
The Bandshell, built in the 1970s, will continue to feature local music at least five nights a week, though the venue is now run by Margaritaville, and the stage will eventually be renamed.
The city, which marked its 90th anniversary this year, contributed more than $20 million to the project. The mayor acknowledges that it was a high price to pay to transform the 1.5-mile, old-fashioned sandy stretch of mom-and-pop stores and family-friendly eateries into a more sophisticated vacation escape with a worldly Carribbean-themed vibe that aims to rival its neighbors to the north and south, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach.
“Margaritaville is the classic case of ‘it takes money to make money,’ ” Mayor Peter Bober said in his quarterly Q&A column in Cahoots, a local newspaper that serves the beach. He said the city hopes to recoup all that and more over the next 90 years. Margaritaville is leasing the city-owned land the resort is built on, paying $1.18 million per year, and contributing $1.9 million more a year in tax revenue, Bober said.
Many residents and people who have vacationed in Hollywood beach for decades are happy to see the beach’s new look, agreeing that it was time for the city to grow up. New, luxury condos are rising up and down A1A.
But progress does not come without grumbling. Parking is a huge headache, and weekend crowds often leave the beach laden with trash. Locals hope that the corporate side of Margaritaville will not strip the beach of the warm charm that brought them here in the first place.
“We’ve got tax dollars coming in, now we have this nice hotel. There are pluses and minuses with everything,” said Lisa Shortt, a Hollywood regular. “So stop complaining people and enjoy this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”