Hotel rises as Mexico Beach recovers from Hurricane Michael

Magenet Magenet

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

A person of his daughters had urged him and his wife, Peggy, to pocket the insurance policies funds and leave the hotel at the rear of.

The Driftwood was a nest of splintered wooden and ruined historical past then: pictures, receipts, mattresses, tables, chairs, all tumbled alongside one another and streaked with mildew. A 14-foot flood and 150 mph winds had dismantled Mexico Seashore, turning the gulf-front oasis into a 3-mile subject of rubble.

Now 82, Tom was addressing a number of dozen attendees for the hotel’s ceremonial reopening the initially weekend of June. The deck the place they sat was 8 ft off the floor, section of a creating perched atop 97 concrete and rebar columns — bigger to keep away from a different flood, sturdier to blunt the wind.

Mexico Beach was dwelling to four hotels and motels prior to Michael. The Driftwood, 3 tales higher with 23 rooms, is the initial to appear again, a symbol of the city’s ongoing restoration. It is taller, more robust — and much more pricey.


Rebuilding from Michael expense about $13 million, according to Tom, more than double the around $5 million they got from insurance.

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

These initially visitors were being not paying. They were men and women the Woods needed to thank — architects and builders, loved ones and pals (previous and new) who despatched provides or picked through the wreckage.

Behind Tom, on the western edge of city, the trees had been shadows of Michael, bare and bent, silhouetted by the fading sun.

The Woods experienced not left.

“I want to develop a monument to the city of Mexico Seashore,” Tom reported, wondering back again. “I want to depart a legacy.

“And we have.”

At daybreak on Oct. 10, 2018, Mexico Beach was a vision of old Florida. Concrete-block duplexes, degree with the sand, lined streets that ended in the dunes. There was a coffee store, a components retail store, a pier.

By dusk, the metropolis experienced been shattered. The storm ripped off roofs and floated them hundreds of feet inland, on to the two lanes of U.S. 98. The Woods’ lodge hung in a state of semi-collapse, awaiting a wrecking crew to supply the last punch.

They hadn’t known what rebuilding would cost. $3 million? $10 million? Their monthly bill soared as months dragged and the pandemic designed workers and products scarcer. Tom and Peggy paid for blueprints of the new inn, which their daughter Shawna reported “looks like the old Driftwood grew up.” They paid out to continue to keep a few individuals on staff members. They paid for concrete in the parking ton, metallic on the roof and tile on the floors. They paid out for each individual chair, sink and rest room.

The family marketed other houses — an office environment developing in Atlanta, a pizza shop in Mexico Beach front — to pump a lot more cash into the inn.

Around the Driftwood’s skeleton, the city’s actual estate current market, as in the rest of Florida, started to increase.

These days, dazzling new multi-tale residences, lifted on stilts, soar previously mentioned vacant tons sprouting weeds. Holiday rental signals hold out entrance.

Mexico Seaside has not regained its pier, but the marina is flush with boaters. The town has a gas station, way too. And a Subway.

The inn sits on five beachfront a lot. A fifty percent-mile down the highway, a one vacant whole lot is on the marketplace for $1.2 million.

“There employed to be a residence below,” the listing reads, “so water and sewer tap service fees have been paid.”

The “For Sale” signs and open land brim with alternatives — for some.

Each longtime resident appreciates close friends who ended up pressured out. They didn’t have the money, the insurance plan or in some scenarios the endurance to slog as a result of rebuilds.

The metropolis experienced always captivated out-of-towners seeking for next residences, generally from Georgia. Now people arrive from farther absent and lease to vacationers until eventually they can retire. Some shell out dollars.

Shawna, 56, who will operate the new Driftwood, said there are no economical properties for store clerks and bartenders. She thinks that’s why she cannot fill two housekeeper positions or discover a portion-time desk employee.

Her have daughter, unable to address rent, has moved 25 minutes away to Callaway.

“We’re no longer a sleepy minor village,” Tom stated. “We acquired so a great deal publicity immediately after the hurricane.”

The new Driftwood’s doorways are significant. The glass is thick. Slick, fashionable furnishings fills every place, rather of hand-picked antiques. Touchscreen pads have replaced keys.

Summer season rooms will charge involving $325 and $425, about twice as a lot as right before the storm. When Shawna posted the fees on Fb, some people commented that they could not wait around. Others reported they could not pay for it.

Following the rebuild, Peggy, 81, reported this is what the spouse and children has to do. They’ll miss out on some of the regulars who made the Driftwood so unique. They bought the initial inn for $138,000 in 1975, when it had only eight units.

They still really don’t know how considerably their flood and wind insurance coverage will price tag, or property taxes. Legal responsibility insurance coverage is up to $17,000 a calendar year, all over double what they made use of to fork out, Shawna stated.

The final handful of several years, Tom and Peggy’s young children fretted that their parents wouldn’t are living to see the resort reopen.

Peggy was in a wheelchair for the to start with weekend right after breaking her hip. Tom bounced all around, shaking arms and leaning on his polished wood cane. He sipped Diet program Cokes and Coors Lights, noting imperfections, like a stain wherever water dripped on the siding. He known as for support when the elevator broke down.

Bart, 59, believed his dad seemed young, as if the challenge of rebuilding experienced provided Tom lifetime.

A core team of Mexico Beach front inhabitants showed up all through the opening weekend to fete the Driftwood’s rebirth with heaping plates of gumbo, shrimp, oysters and cake.

Even though the town — and resort — have improved dramatically, the folks who managed to remain do not converse so fearfully about Mexico Seaside getting rid of its allure any more.

“If people today dwell in this article, they’ve received the heartbeat,” claimed Cathey Parker Hobbs, a descendant of a city founder.

“You can not detest men and women for having an chance to occur in and locate their aspiration,” reported Michael Scoggins, co-proprietor of Killer Seafood, a restaurant down the road that serves po’boys out of a custom trailer bought following the storm.

Bart looked all over the Driftwood’s spacious gatherings place, adorned with hanging wooden boats. Higher than the gumbo table, he spotted a design schooner he developed when he was about 14.

“There’s nonetheless a ton of background below,” he claimed.

The Woods’ fingerprints are in all places, at minimum for those who know the place to search: fanciful white cornices, paintings by Tom, a whimsical birdhouse selection.

“I’m hoping the Driftwood can create that helpful sensation,” Peggy reported, like a bridge to the Mexico Beach that existed right before Michael.

Fifty several years ago, the Driftwood was a dream.

Peggy remaining Atlanta for Mexico Seashore, wherever her young children couldn’t skip school devoid of their mom locating out.

Bart, Shawna and Brandy pitched in by cleansing rooms.

Brandy, who pushed her moms and dads to market soon after Michael, was tidying up for opening weekend when her own youngsters remarked that she experienced appear total circle.

At 55, on the back again close of a career in corporate The usa, Brandy appears to be forward to arranging functions at the new Driftwood, these kinds of as bingo evenings and bachelorette parties. She and her spouse were married at the previous inn.

The Wood kids all have properties in Mexico Beach front. 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 lady sat in the foyer with her canine, waiting around for coffee. Brandy apologized.

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

Brandy seemed around the beach front and viewed puffy clouds pad the horizon. She felt the gulf breeze. She stared at the h2o, and she did not see a ripple.

___

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

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