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An abandoned hotel in southwest Florida built on some speciously sold swampland.

Port of the Islands

The lobby of the Port of the Islands Hotel from the second floor | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

Port of the Islands would be much more appropriately named Shanty of the Swamp after years of being shuttered and at the mercy of vandals and the brutal Florida Everglades.

Located just off Tamiami Trail southeast of Naples, it was often confused with the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort located nearby. Sporting similar names and architectural styles, the two locations were otherwise very different. The three-star Adventure Resort, owned by Sunstream Hotels & Resorts in Fort Myers Beach is still in operation, billing itself as the "ultimate home base for exploring North America's largest and most iconic subtropical wetland ecosystem." It was not uncommon for travelers to confuse the two locations and unintentionally book a room at the run-down Port of the Islands hotel.

Port of the Islands and the Adventure Resort are similar enough aesthetically that its entirely understandable that people would have trouble differentiating the two – at least until they arrive – even without the strikingly analogous names. The establishments were constructed by the same company around the same time. Both locations sport many elements of Spanish architecture: terracotta tiled roofs, open-air courtyards, and prominent arched entryways. Pictures of the lobby in the buildings are so similar one could be forgiven for not being able to immediately tell the difference between the two, or even realize that they are separate locations in the first place.

Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort
Port of the Islands

The lobby of the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort from Kayak & a photo of the lobby of the abandoned Port of the Islands hotel taken by Sugarbomb in 2018.

This area of southwest Florida was to be the "City of the Future" named Golden Gate Estates but would in fact become a part of one of the most notable land scams in Florida's history. In the early 1960s, the Gulf American Land Corporation set out to recreate the success they had previously with the development of Cape Coral in an area just east of Naples and west of the Big Cypress Preserve. The Gulf American Corporation set up offices in major cities and fancy "reception centers" at the end of the 175-square-mile subdivision.

Gulf American founder Leonard Rosen would fly potential buyers and investors in to the area via a private airstrip constructed nearby for a promotional free weekend. Prospective buyers were shown slideshows displaying illustrations of a giant golden arch with a sparkling fountain and a wide boulevard leading to ranch homes, shopping centers, and schools. Visitors would be taken to the Golden Gate Golf and Country Club at the north end of the development and a country club and marina to the south called Remuda Ranch Grants. The goal was to wine and dine out of town guests in hopes that they invest in the development of Golden Gate Estates.

Remuda Ranch Grants Brochure

Remuda Ranch Grants brochure published in 1966 by the Gulf American Land Corporation | Photo from user 'whokeepsthisstuff' on Etsy

The Remuda Ranch was constructed in 1963 by the Gulf American Land Corporation. 23 miles southeast of Naples, it was touted as a great holiday getaway. Remuda Ranch was portrayed on a postcard as an exquisite Spanish style “ranchero” with an impressive clubhouse “hacienda,” plush guest accommodations and huge 150-boat marina.

Remuda Ranch Grants was a widespread resort consisting of two building complexes, one on the north and south side of the Tamiami Trail. It was described as an outdoorsman's paradise combined with lush accommodations. The south complex of the Remuda Ranch would later become the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort, while the north complex evolved – or devolved, as the case may be – into the Port of the Islands Hotel.

The south Remuda Ranch complex maintained a luxurious boatel and marina with floating docks. In addition to the deluxe guest rooms, the resort had a swimming pool and outdoor whirlpool bath, health clubs, and a restaurant and lounge. A rental fishing fleet was available, and anglers could venture through the waterways of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands and Gulf of Mexico and enjoy fishing throughout the year for bass, snook, and tarpon.

Remuda Ranch - Naples Daily News

Photo from the Naples Daily News as a part of an article about the Remuda Ranch published March 17, 1970.

The complexes that made up the Remuda Ranch offered horseback riding trails and a fully equipped stable area, fishing, and skeet shooting. Visitors could also go out and hunt deer, wild turkey, quail, squirrels, and bears.

The north complex was described as a gracious two-story Spanish mission type motel. A highlight of this area of the resort was skeet and trap shooting range where guests could participate in claybird shooting day and night. The Remuda Ranch Shooting Center hosted regularly scheduled trap and skeet shoots on the property where participants could complete against one another. The north complex also offered camping grounds with water and electricity available.

Port of the Islands

At room in the Port of the Islands Hotel | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

Despite the luxurious amenities and auspicious image presented to Gulf American's guests, the area that was advertised to become Golden Gate Estates was in fact no more than swampland. The Gulf American Land Corporation sold 173,000 miles of land to about 40,000 buyers. The land was platted and split into 1.25 acre lots that were sold for up to five times what they were actually worth to unsuspecting buyers, many of whom had only seen the land from the air, if at all. Many plots that were purchased were still underwater. Buyers would pay in monthly installments and acquired ownership of their properties when the payments were complete.

Unlike with its development of Cape Coral, which had been developed and then sold, the only thing buyers would get with this project was the land itself and the roads and canals. No other construction was going to be done by the Gulf American Land Corporation, meaning that there were no utilities or public services available.

The company began to get complaints about their questionable sales practices in the early 1960s. Plots were oversold in an attempt to protect against buyers attempting to get out of their contractual agreements following a sudden change of mind or potential default. At one point, minerals were discovered on freshly sold parcels and the Gulf American Corporation rewrote legal descriptions for 1,300 lots, relocating them several miles away. In 1967, a new Land Sales Board was appointed by Governor Claude R. Kirk Jr., and they quickly began investigating the grievances that had been put forth against Gulf American. Several month later in November 1967, Gulf American would plead guilty to five charges of fraud or misleading practices.

Port of the Islands

One of the rooms with two beds on the second floor of the hotel | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

In 1969, Gulf American was sold to the General Acceptance Corporation for more than $200 million. The 1970s saw some of the highest rates of inflation in the United States in recent history. In turn, interest rates rose to nearly 20%. These rising interest rates made it difficult for the General Acceptance Corporation to refinance the company's public debt. At the same time, the General Acceptance Corporation was also gaining attention from authorities, consumers, and environmental groups for their controversial sales techniques and poor environmental record. A confluence of these factors caused the company to scale down their residential developments and close or sell off their auxiliary investments, eventually filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1975.

By 1974, only 10 percent of Golden Gate Estates had been developed.

The Gulf American Land Corporation had built over 183 miles of roads and dug 813 miles of canals through pristine pine flatwoods and marshy grasslands. The leftover material that came from the excavation these canals was used to raise the land level in order to comply with the legal requirements for minimum building elevation. These canals ended up being an ecological nightmare.

Port of the Islands

Graffiti covers much of the walls in the hallways throughout the hotel | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The company's engineers transformed a natural creek into a razor-straight ditch that channeled through sawgrass, prairies, and mangroves and emptied into the estuary of the Ten Thousand Islands. Another master canal drained the western portion of Golden Gate into Naples Bay. Altogether, the project funneled 411 million gallons of fresh water into the Gulf of Mexico every day, damaging coastal saltwater ecology while also causing the groundwater table to drop, making the area vulnerable to fire. To combat such abuses, the Florida Department of Business Regulation implemented reforms in the 1970s in an attempt to protect the environment and rehabilitate the damage that had been done.

The state began purchasing lots in the southern part of Golden Gate Estates in 1985 under its Conservation and Recreational Lands program (CARL). The CARL program was established in 1979 by the Florida legislature in order to acquire lands of environmental and cultural significance.

The Remuda Ranch was purchased in 1980 by Bill Ray of Newport Beach California and renamed Port of the Islands. In 1984, Ray picked up where Gulf American left off – albeit with much more success – and began a multi-phase, multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the area. The Port of the Islands community gets its name from this. Ownership of this land where Gulf American's office, resort, and airstrip had been located changed hands over the decades until eventually the Adventure Resort, marina, and hotel were managed by different owners.

Port of the Islands

The pool in one of the the courtyards at Port of the Islands | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

By the 1990s, the area was still considered very rural. Southern Golden Gate was separated from the slightly more developed northern portion by Interstate 75 and in 1992 only 70 to 200 people live on the 41,000 acres. The handful of street signs left over from the Gulf American days were peppered with bullet holes and surrounded by overgrowth. In the early 1980s the area was a favored place for drug smugglers to land DC-3s on the deserted roads – and likely the old Gulf American Corporation private airstrip as well – and stash their cargo away back in the woods. A spokesman for the Collier County Sheriff's Office even claimed that they suspected some of that to still be going on over a decade later.

Port of the Islands

A room on the second floor of the Port of the Islands Hotel | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

In the early 1990s the Port of the Islands Hotel was operating under the name Regent Resort according to papers still lying about in the old hotel. An earnings sheet dated June 3, 1991 displays the names of several guests along with their respective room rates; $23.95 per night and $28.95 per night.

Gopal Motwani and his wife Nirmla Motwani purchased the Port of the Islands Hotel in 2002 for $275,000. The hotel didn't officially open until 2006, however, due to what Gopal called an unsupportable tax bill of $133,000 per year. According to him, he invested over $200,000 to fix up the hotel, which had sat empty for years. This included buying furniture and installing new carpeting, a new sprinkler system, and a new electrical system. After years of debt, disputes, and litigation the troubled hotel closed its doors for good in July 2013. When the Port of the Islands Hotel shut its doors, Gopal Motwani owed more than $1.16 million for a loan that the couple had taken out from the Bacardi Foundation in 2005 along with $548,446 in unpaid taxes.

Few were upset about the closing of this ill-fated hotel, the co-owner happy to say good riddance and the creditors and lawyers feeling much the same way, ready to wash their hands of a property that no one is in a hurry to invest in.

The property fell into such disrepair before its eventual closure that guests of the hotel referred to it online as "Hotel California." A sign on the outside of the building proclaimed "Port of Island Hotel and Bar" advertising low rates and a 4pm-7pm happy hour. TripAdvisor reviews from when the hotel was still in operation describe a scene far from a "resort" with missing doorknobs, broken locks, bug-infested beds, kicked-in doors, rusty faucets, musty and moldy smells, water damaged ceilings, and a vibrant pea-green pool. It looks much the same years after its abandonment, only now it sports a new paint job of graffiti.

Before the Port of the Islands hotel closed its doors for good, the pool in the courtyard had been shut down indefinitely after consistently failing inspections by the Florida Department of Public Health.

Port of the Islands

The check in desk and lobby of Port of the Islands | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

The Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort down the street was also happy to see its disappointing sibling meet its end, describing it as an "eyesore" and a "bad place." Workers at the Adventure Resort described it as "seedy" and claimed that it had been that way for many years before finally closing down. The well-maintained Adventure Resort frequently had to chase away "drunks and pill-heads" who were living long-term at the hotel and would wander over to use their pool. Gopal Motwani blamed the hotel's seedy reputation on "some filthy people who were living there on a monthly basis."

Several of these long-term tenants were also employees at the hotel and were among the only ones who were sad to see the place close. After years of employment that sometimes included sweeping the water from the lobby when the ceiling would leak and corralling their unruly neighbors, they were laid off and told to leave only shortly before the power was shut off and the no trespassing signs were posted on the boarded doors.

Collier County acquired the deed to the swampy structure after a forced public sale yielded no offers on the property.

Port of the Islands

A fun find in one of the rooms | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

In early November 2020, county commissioners approved a $388,444 contract for the demolition of the abandoned hotel. The project included asbestos removal and demolition of the hotel, as well as backfilling and leveling the land for future development. Collier County took ownership of the financially troubled property in January 2020 after unpaid property taxes forced a public sale. According to county records, the market value of the former hotel property is $156,367, mostly reflecting the value of the land that it sits on. With no other offers on the property, the county got the deed free and clear of all tax certificates, accrued taxes, and liens of any kind.

A public information coordinator for the county indicated that there were no immediate plans for the nearly 7 acres of land the soon-to-be-demolished hotel was located on, stating that the county intends to hold the property in its inventory until a determination is made regarding its future.

The Port of the Islands Hotel was demolished in January 2021.

Port of the Islands

The lobby of the Port of the Islands Hotel | Photo © 2018 Sugarbomb

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