Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Margaritas put an end to the ancient curse on Hollywood beach

Rendering of Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort
Rendering of Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort Margaritaville Beach Resort

It had been like hoodoo, the curse that hung over those five forlorn beachfront acres where so many grand plans went to die.

Since 1982, ambitious proposals to redevelop a city-owned site on Hollywood beach have been killed off, one after another, by the town’s famously obstructive politics, by years-long lawsuits, phantom financing, sleazy would-be developers, even a mob-style murder.

It had become a recurrent comedy with Hollywood civic leaders every few years embracing a new plan for a luxury hotel or a festive marketplace or, in 1991, for an entertainment center with a swell miniature golf course.

Promises were made. Deals were negotiated. Contracts were signed. Nothing happened.

So many ventures for the jinxed casino property withered away that — now that something has finally been built (the 349-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort opened last week) — it seems almost surreal. As if Jimmy Buffett has defied the spectral forces of hell to build his hotel.

It looked real enough Saturday night, a 17-story building looming over the beach Broadwalk with eight bars churning out beer, margaritas and rum concoctions to hundreds of Parrotheads.

Of course, when the original casino bath house opened in 1925, it too was a spectacular edifice with a giant saltwater pool, Turkish baths, cabanas, a shopping arcade and 824 dressing rooms. A year later, a hurricane undid all that grandeur. Eventually, the pool was filled and the property was reconfigured into a low-rent shopping plaza. By the 1970s, the city was landlord to tough bars, pizza joints and souvenir shops that peddled flamingo toothpick holders and “party naked” T-shirts.

Proposals to redevelop the funky property over the years were fought by the city’s fearsome cadre of condo commandos who opposed anything that reeked of change. In 1982, they knocked down a proposal for a 140-room Holiday Inn. Five years later, a deal to build an eight-story hotel on the site fizzled.

In 1988, the city partnered with a developer named Harvey Birdman for a 14-story hotel. That collapsed when someone thought to do a background check and discovered Birdman had done prison time for securities fraud.

Plans for shopping complexes came and went. In 1997, the city cozied up with restaurant and gambling boat magnate Gus Boulis, whose Diamond on the Beach proposal included a 312-room hotel and an 85,000-square-foot shopping center. All that came of that project was a series of lawsuits that endured even after mobsters took out Boulis in 2001.

Then came the Swimming Pool Hall of Fame museum, swimming complex and hotel project. Nothing doing. Followed by an $80 million 800-room Marriott Ocean Village proposal that kept the city tantalized until 2009.

Sure, the Margaritaville Resort looks like one of those overwrought theme hotels concocted in Orlando — think Jimmy Buffett instead of Mickey Mouse — but it seems (even after a few drinks) to actually exist. All it took to undo Hollywood’s ancient beachfront curse was a $175 million budget and a margarita chaser.