Ralph Borrelli is used to the tranquility of rustling leaves and chirping birds when he walks Kami, his Australian cattle dog, past a church on Northeast 16th Avenue, a half-block from his home.
Like many of his neighbors, the 56-year-old computer repairman is convinced that a five-star, gay-oriented resort would spoil his walks, magnifying noise and traffic and gutting property values.
The $60 million G Resort is proposed to open by 2012 on the site of the Center for Spiritual Living church, a stone's throw from homes in eastern Wilton Manors.
Upset residents have rallied against the proposal, creating the nonprofit Save East Wilton Manors, wearing red shirts to show their opposition at a Sept. 14 City Commission meeting, and collecting more than 400 anti-resort signatures so far.
The city, which must decide whether to approve the proposal, has just started reviewing the plan. City Manager Joseph Gallegos said it's too early to tell whether a resort is a viable option for Wilton Manors.
"It's unusual from that aspect," Gallegos said. "There hasn't been a hotel proposed for the city in at least 12 years."
Nor should there be now, said Paul Lyons, a snowbird from Boston whose South Florida home is less than a block from the church.
"I bought there because of the peace and quiet, not [to be near] something that's going to completely destroy a quiet residential neighborhood," said Lyons. "They need to go back to the drawing board."
The New York-based company behind the G Resort says it hasn't been given a fair shot and vows to design the resort to everyone's benefit. The company, G Worldwide, is still fine-tuning the plan before seeking approval from the city, presenting to the zoning board on Nov. 8 and the commission as early as December.
"They came out with those protests without ever seeing what we produced," said Dean Trantalis, a Wilton Manors attorney for G Worldwide.
The plan calls for 87 hotel rooms, 26 timeshare units, a nightclub, fitness center, spa, restaurants, art gallery, pools and performance theater on 350,000 square feet. A first-floor garage, with a lift system for stacking vehicles in twos, would have 525 parking spots.
The resort would be five stories at its entrance on Northeast 26th Street, a commercial road, and reduced to three stories closest to the surrounding single-family homes and three-story condo building. The contemporary design has plenty of grays and glass, glimmering lights and water features — all meant to convey elegance.
Trees and other landscaping would help create a buffer zone between resort and homes. The building would not be entirely hidden, but Trantalis said neighbors should find it "architecturally appealing."
The company and even some opponents agree that the complex has great potential for boosting the economy and adding jobs in Wilton Manors, where an estimated 40 percent of nearly 13,000 residents are gay.
"While the city has a small population, it is a magnet for the gay traveler who is looking to come to South Florida because of its amenities and the quality of life it has to offer," Trantalis said.
Martin Nixon, an opponent who lives a half-block from the church, said the fit between resort and city is not the point.
"We believe Wilton Manors would benefit from such a resort," Nixon said. "The issue is the location of the resort literally being right in the heart of a residential neighborhood."
John Fiore, president of Save East Wilton Manors and a former mayor, said the resort proposal is "way too much."
"The noise will be heard for blocks from this," he said. "If we hear 'thump, thump, thump' from the rooftop disco, my condo will be worth nothing."
Trantalis said neighbors wouldn't hear "any kind of entertainment," even the nightclub, planned for near the resort entrance, closest to the commercial road.
The plan for the G Resort started evolving about 18 months ago, when company officials targeted a "niche market of gay travelers," Trantalis said.
Trantalis said it helps that one of the resort's developers is Michael Haley, president and creator of G Hospitality Group, the parent company of G Worldwide.
Haley was project manager for Dolcevita on Singer Island, a beachside, 35-unit, six-story condominium completed last year. Haley said he has 20 years of experience in condominium and hospitality development throughout the eastern United States, mostly up north.
Judging by tourism figures, investors concluded the resort would do well in an ailing economy and be well-positioned to thrive when there's an upturn.
An estimated 950,000 gays visited Broward County last year and spent $1.2 billion, or about 14 percent of the total, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
As soon as the resort opens, Trantalis said, it should attract "a core population" that keeps traveling.
G Worldwide spent more than a year searching for the right parcel: a sizable, contiguous piece of land within the city's roughly two square miles. Trantalis said none was available on Wilton Drive, the main commercial corridor, where several multi-story mixed-use complexes opened in recent years.
The company found that "no matter where you want to build," every large property always had at least one side abutting residences, he said.
An attempt to buy a 6-acre trailer park, about three blocks from Wilton Drive, failed in July.
Then the 40-year-old Center for Spiritual Living Fort Lauderdale, a third of a mile from Wilton Drive, agreed to sell its 4-acre parcel for $3.7 million.
The pending sale would let the church stay in its building rent-free until late next year, said Leonard Wright, the church's board treasurer.
Then the church would be dismantled, with some pieces preserved to reuse at a new location, Trantalis said.
Once the flagship resort opens in Wilton Manors, the company will explore expanding into New York, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Calif., and maybe Mexico and beyond.
More community and city meetings are expected in coming months.
Save East Wilton Manors has raised $1,200 to hire planners and traffic engineers to persuade the zoning board to reject the proposal, Fiore said. G Worldwide plans to explain the project to neighborhood associations at an Oct. 14 meeting.
"The people of the community," Trantalis said, "deserve to hear both sides of the story before minds are made up."
Source: Sun Sentinel