December 9, 2023


Fly with us

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 immediately after Hurricane Michael obliterated the old a person, Tom Wood spoke of the months after the storm.

1 of his daughters had urged him and his wife, Peggy, to pocket the coverage dollars and depart the lodge behind.

The Driftwood was a nest of splintered wooden and ruined heritage then: shots, receipts, mattresses, tables, chairs, all tumbled alongside one another and streaked with mold. A 14-foot flood and 150 mph winds had dismantled Mexico Beach front, turning the gulf-entrance oasis into a 3-mile field of rubble.

Now 82, Tom was addressing a number of dozen visitors for the hotel’s ceremonial reopening the initially weekend of June. The deck where they sat was 8 ft off the floor, aspect of a developing perched atop 97 concrete and rebar columns — increased to steer clear of a further flood, sturdier to blunt the wind.

Mexico Beach was home to four lodges and motels ahead of Michael. The Driftwood, three stories higher with 23 rooms, is the very first to appear again, a symbol of the city’s ongoing restoration. It is taller, more powerful — and additional high-priced.

Rebuilding from Michael value about $13 million, according to Tom, a lot more than double the roughly $5 million they received 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 to start with visitors were not paying out. They were being people the Woods desired to thank — architects and builders, spouse and children and close friends (old and new) who sent supplies or picked by the wreckage.

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

The Woods had not left.

“I want to develop a monument to the city of Mexico Beach front,” Tom stated, pondering again. “I want to go away a legacy.

“And we have.”

At daybreak on Oct. 10, 2018, Mexico Beach front was a vision of outdated Florida.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

By dusk, the town experienced been shattered. The storm ripped off roofs and floated them hundreds of toes inland, on to the two lanes of U.S. 98. The Woods’ hotel hung in a condition of semi-collapse, awaiting a wrecking crew to produce the remaining punch.

They hadn’t known what rebuilding would value. $3 million? $10 million? Their monthly bill soared as months dragged and the pandemic created employees and components scarcer. Tom and Peggy paid out for blueprints of the new inn, which their daughter Shawna explained “looks like the aged Driftwood grew up.” They compensated to preserve a several persons on personnel. They paid for concrete in the parking large amount, metallic on the roof and tile on the floors. They compensated for each individual chair, sink and toilet.

The family members marketed other houses — an place of work setting up in Atlanta, a pizza shop in Mexico Beach front — to pump a lot more revenue into the inn.

All over the Driftwood’s skeleton, the city’s actual estate current market, as in the rest of Florida, started out to boom.

Today, vibrant new multi-story properties, lifted on stilts, soar earlier mentioned vacant a lot sprouting weeds. Trip rental indications hang out entrance.

Mexico Seashore hasn’t regained its pier, but the marina is flush with boaters. The city has a gas station, too. And a Subway.

The inn sits on 5 beachfront a lot. A half-mile down the road, a single vacant ton is on the marketplace for $1.2 million.

“There utilised to be a home right here,” the listing reads, “so drinking water and sewer tap fees have been paid.”

The “For Sale” signals and open up land brim with possibilities — for some.

Each individual longtime resident is familiar with pals who have been compelled out. They didn’t have the money, the insurance or in some conditions the endurance to slog through rebuilds.

The metropolis had normally captivated out-of-towners wanting for 2nd homes, mostly from Georgia. Now men and women come from farther absent and rent to vacationers until they can retire. Some spend funds.

Shawna, 56, who will run the new Driftwood, mentioned there are no affordable homes for retail outlet clerks and bartenders. She believes which is why she just can’t fill two housekeeper positions or obtain a section-time desk employee.

Her individual daughter, not able to cover hire, has moved 25 minutes away to Callaway.

“We’re no extended a sleepy tiny village,” Tom reported. “We received so substantially publicity right after the hurricane.”

The new Driftwood’s doorways are large. The glass is thick. Slick, modern-day furnishings fills each and every place, as a substitute of hand-picked antiques. Touchscreen pads have changed keys.

Summer rooms will expense involving $325 and $425, about 2 times as a great deal as just before the storm. When Shawna posted the prices on Facebook, some folks commented that they couldn’t wait. Other folks mentioned they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

Following the rebuild, Peggy, 81, claimed this is what the household has to do. They’ll skip some of the regulars who manufactured the Driftwood so particular. They bought the primary inn for $138,000 in 1975, when it experienced only eight models.

They nonetheless really do not know how much their flood and wind insurance policy will price tag, or house taxes. Liability insurance policy is up to $17,000 a 12 months, close to double what they employed to pay back, Shawna reported.

The final couple of yrs, Tom and Peggy’s kids fretted that their moms and dads would not reside to see the resort reopen.

Peggy was in a wheelchair for the to start with weekend after breaking her hip. Tom bounced about, shaking fingers and leaning on his polished wood cane. He sipped Food plan Cokes and Coors Lights, noting imperfections, like a stain exactly where h2o dripped on the siding. He termed for enable when the elevator broke down.

Bart, 59, imagined his father appeared young, as if the challenge of rebuilding experienced given Tom everyday living.

A core group of Mexico Seashore people 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 metropolis — and hotel — have modified drastically, the individuals who managed to stay never converse so fearfully about Mexico Seashore shedding its charm any longer.

“If people reside listed here, they’ve bought the heartbeat,” mentioned Cathey Parker Hobbs, a descendant of a city founder.

“You cannot despise individuals for getting an option to come in and find their aspiration,” explained Michael Scoggins, co-operator of Killer Seafood, a cafe down the street that serves po’boys out of a customized trailer purchased just after the storm.

Bart looked around the Driftwood’s roomy occasions room, decorated with hanging wood boats. Previously mentioned the gumbo table, he noticed a product schooner he built when he was about 14.

“There’s continue to a lot of history below,” he claimed.

The Woods’ fingerprints are everywhere, at least for these who know where to appear: fanciful white cornices, paintings by Tom, a whimsical birdhouse selection.

“I’m hoping the Driftwood can build that helpful feeling,” Peggy reported, like a bridge to the Mexico Seaside that existed prior to Michael.

Fifty many years in the past, the Driftwood was a aspiration.

Peggy left Atlanta for Mexico Beach, where her young children could not skip university with no their mother getting out.

Bart, Shawna and Brandy pitched in by cleansing rooms.

Brandy, who pushed her parents to provide following Michael, was tidying up for opening weekend when her individual kids remarked that she had arrive comprehensive circle.

At 55, on the back again finish of a vocation in company America, Brandy appears to be forward to arranging occasions at the new Driftwood, such as bingo evenings and bachelorette parties. She and her spouse were being married at the old inn.

The Wooden kids all have households in Mexico Beach. Christmases, they’ll shell out at the hotel.

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

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

Brandy looked more than the seashore and viewed puffy clouds pad the horizon. She felt the gulf breeze. She stared at the drinking water, and she did not see a ripple.


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