by Leo Jakobson | November 21, 2017
There's a building boom going on along South Florida's Atlantic coast, including Miami, the Palm Beaches, and Fort Lauderdale, while on the Gulf Coast -- in the Naples and Marco Island area -- virtually all the work is wrapping up. The Keys will take a little longer, but the area is mostly up and running.

While Naples and Marco Island were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Irma, the damage to the resorts was not nearly as bad as the national news outlets made it out to be, notes JoNell Modys, public relations and communication manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. The main delay was with now-finished power and infrastructure repairs, she adds. 

"People still assume our beach was destroyed, but we did not get that 16-foot storm surge they were predicting," she says. "It never happened. But everyone saw the hysterical pre-storm coverage, and the national media never comes back two or three weeks later."

In fact, the hotels and resorts are 98 percent back to normal, Modys says, with the Naples Grande Beach Resort reopening in mid-December. Like the the LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, which reopened in November, the Naples Grande took the opportunity to move up renovations of the guest rooms, public spaces, pools, and landscaping that had been planned for the relatively near future. 

The only other holdout, the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa, was renovating before the storm and will reopen in March. Its meeting and event space, and its restaurants are already open. 

The newly rebranded JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa has reopened 719 renovated rooms as work continues on its new adults-only, 94-room Lanai Tower, which will include a new rooftop lounge, pool deck, and meeting space with grand beach and Gulf views. That work will also wrap in March.

The AAA Four-Diamond Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, which has undergone $50 million in renovations over the past few years, has wrapped up a total redesign of its historic golf course with input from its original designer, Jack Nicklaus. 

If the Island area came through the ordeal smiling, it's not only because the damage was not as bad as predicted. For the second year in a row, the Gallup-Healthways State of the American Well-Being Community Rankings put the Naples, Marco Island, Immokalee metropolitan area as the No. 1 Happiest and Healthiest City in the United States. It also placed No. 11 on the National Geographic/Blue Zones Index of "The 25 Happiest Cities in the United States" - a list based on National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner research into the places where people are the happiest and live the longest. So, it shouldn't be very surprising that the area is working on reinventing itself as a wellness destination, Modys says. 

The big news in Miami is of course the planned completion of the Miami Beach Convention Center following a $615 million renovation and expansion project next year. It will unveil a state-of-the-art, LEED Silver-certified facility spanning 1.4 million square feet with more than 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, including a new 60,000-square-foot ballroom and 81 breakout rooms accounting for 190,000 square feet. And new green space in the surrounding area will include six acres of asphalt replaced with a park, as well as 300 new trees planted along with 200 that are being preserved during construction. The Grand ballroom and its pre-function space have been designed around the carefully preserved, showpiece Strangler Tree. 

"The Miami Beach Convention Center project reflects our commitment to not only being a world-class destination for meetings, conventions, and events, but a home for some of the most advanced environmental thought leadership and sustainable technology," says William D. Talbert, III, CDME, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. "From landscaping and lighting to architecture and recycling, our LEED Silver-certified facility will truly set the bar amongst convention centers around the world."

Other Miami news includes the opening of The Julia, a boutique, 29-room property in South Beach's SoFi neighborhood. The renovation of the meeting rooms, lobby, and reception area of the Palms Hotel and Spa. And early 2018 will see the addition of the 132-room boutique property, The Celino South Beach, on Ocean Drive. It has a Latin style with tropical highlights, and sports a glass-bottomed rooftop pool.