Most people who have been coming to the Plantation for many years remember when the Resort Village area inside the gated community included a hotel for overnight guests, not for the weekly stays which characterize most accommodations on the island. The hotel was small but controversial.
It represented the efforts beginning in 1991 of Tallahassee developer Ben Johnson to add “resort hotel facilities and the appropriate amenities, including restaurants, retail shops and recreational activities.” The development was slated to include a $4 million beach club/conference center with 469 rooms, 680 parking spaces, 12,500 square feet of retail space, and numerous restaurants and bars. The planned community within a community would have changed the nature of the gated Plantation, making it open to traffic like so many other Florida resort areas.
Opposition from residents and seafood community, environmental concerns, litigation, and the economy finally brought the project to an end before extensive development could occur. Before its demise, the area boasted the installation of an onsite commercial central waste treatment facility and a large pool and clubhouse complex. Later, the wastewater facility was dismantled, leaving a grassy field.
In 1999 Johnson sold the property to another developer, Phipps Ventures, and new plans for the island emerged.
The Phipps family developers envisioned an airport community with homes built along the flight path of the Plantation airstrip. In an agreement with the community, the developer was granted the ability to convert the hotel to condominiums but generally the plans called for single family homes. Eventually, this project also stalled, making the extensive vacant land and community spaces available for the Plantation Owners’ Association to acquire.
In 2017 the SGPOA membership approved the purchase of all Resort Village land and common area not already held by other private owners. The purpose for the purchase, in addition to preserving undeveloped land, was the development of additional recreational venues for association owners and guests. The acquisition included a long stretch of undeveloped beachfront and first tier lots, along with land between Leisure Lane and the airstrip. Plans contemplated bayfront recreational opportunity, a new fitness center and other gathering areas. Hurricane Michael in 2018, the pandemic, and inflationary construction costs have delayed those steps.
Beginning in 2020 the association began the long-awaited improvements which included replumbing and surfacing the large pool, replacing pump equipment, adding turtle lighting, and re-installing wrought iron fencing and paver walkways previously located on private home property. Landscapers removed overgrown plantings and revamped the irrigation. A paved drop off area made the pool complex easier to access for families of young kids with pool toys. Bright colorful pool furniture added to the area’s updated feel. Future plans include expanding the clubhouse with decking for outdoor gathering areas and a new roof.
In 2022, the association will build a long dock over bayside wetlands to provide for a kayak launch and sitting area. Additional parking and a park restroom are also planned. Future recreational facilities for the bayside property, to be determined by a survey of membership, might include playground, kid’s water feature, putting green, tennis, pickleball, or basketball courts.
For more than forty years, Resort Village appears to be the land that doesn’t want to be developed. Today, the vibrant sales market has brought several new homes under construction with new opportunities to thrive. It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.