WILTON MANORS — A stylish four-star boutique hotel proposed for the landmark Five Points intersection would be the town’s first hotel ever — and one of the tallest buildings in Wilton Manors, with seven stories rising to 90 feet, the maximum height for the neighborhood.
Though not all are thrilled at the prospect, many say it’s just what Wilton Manors needs.
If built, the 123-room Wilton Hotel & Pool Club would replace a dullish gray funeral home with what some are calling a sexy new hotel that would bring more drama to the arts and entertainment district and usher in a new vibe for the busy corner.
But some fear a new hotel towering over Five Points, with its notoriously slow lights and five-spoke intersection at Wilton Drive and Dixie Highway, will only distract drivers and add to the gridlock.
Longtime resident Constance Ruppender, a former member of the town’s planning board, has her reservations.
“I’m not opposed to a hotel in Wilton Manors,” she said. “I just don’t think that’s the best spot for it. The commissioners want to bring a hotel to Wilton Manors. But once it’s built, you can’t unbuild it. I just think they’re rushing into this. Say goodbye (to that small-town feel). They’re chipping away at our quirky little island city.”
Wilton Manors has been courting a hotel for years but has not had any luck until now.
Developer Mark Ellert says he thinks Five Points is the perfect spot for a new hotel. And this one will have a rooftop pool open to the public along with what he’s calling the Wilton Walls — colorful murals created by local artists that will make the hotel’s exterior walls all that more dramatic.
Current plans also call for 99 parking spaces, a rooftop dining area, bar and grill, coffee bistro and meeting rooms.
“I think Wilton Manors, with its unique gay-centric demographic and small-town vibe, can certainly support a new hotel,” said Ellert, president of IAG Florida. “Five Points is really the symbolic entrance to Wilton Manors. It will be a stylish boutique hotel that really reflects the area and it will be an icon for the arts and entertainment district.”
The $55 million project will require a traffic study, rezoning and commission approval. Ellert hopes to break ground by the end of 2024 and open in late 2026.
‘We need a hotel’
Out-of-towners who want to visit LGBTQ-friendly Wilton Manors usually just take an Uber to the bars, shops and restaurants then head back to their hotel at the beach in Fort Lauderdale, said resident Jake Valentine. But when the Wilton Hotel opens, they might just stay there, he said.
“We need a hotel,” Valentine said. “Most of the people staying at the new hotel are going to be walking around the district. It’s better having them here than having them go back to their hotel on the beach.”
Valentine scoffed at the notion that Wilton Manors will lose its small-town feel and suffer more gridlock if the hotel gets built.
“We’re not really a small town anymore,” he said. “If you want to be in a small town, you need to move to a small town in Alabama. And let me tell you, when church lets out on Sunday or there’s a sale at Piggly Wiggly, you’re going to be stuck in a traffic jam.”
In mid-July, Commissioner Chris Caputo posted a comment on Facebook saying he was excited about a developer unveiling plans for a “sexy” new hotel. His post got 158 comments.
One online commenter was thrilled with the news: “This will bring more daytime business to the city, which is sorely needed. I imagine the massage therapists and other local stores, restaurants and service businesses will benefit from the increased foot traffic and exposure. I love the fact that it is right smack in our walkable district!”
Another was not so happy: “Great. We will be priced out like Key West by 2027. Wilton will be KW 2.0 and soon after it won’t even be gay-centric anymore. Any server/bartender/middle-class worker will be living in Lauderhill commuting in with no place to park. Seen this all before.”
Business owner Glen Weinzimer, whose Bona Italian restaurant is a short walk away, has mixed feelings about the possibility of a boutique hotel going up next door.
“It’s going to be right behind us,” Weinzimer said. “Will it be good for business? In the long-term, but we are four years off. I’m more concerned about the construction. We’re going to lose parking and it’s going to be disruptive.”
Other projects are also in the pipeline, including some that will bring mid-rise apartment towers to town, Weinzimer said.
“My big concern is that all the projects are going to come online at the same time and we are going to turn into a concrete jungle and end up being like Lincoln Road, where it goes from a bohemian area to a mainstream place with a Victoria’s Secret,” he said. “I’m a fan of progress. But I don’t want to lose our bohemian community.”
Mayor Scott Newton dismissed any notion of gloom and doom.
“It seems like something the city has needed for a long time,” Newton said of the Wilton Hotel proposal. “We have one inn. It’s a one-story building with 15 rooms. It’s not a boutique hotel. We’re pretty much built out, so we’re going vertical. But not like Fort Lauderdale, where they’re putting up 50-story buildings. I think we still have that small-town feel. We still have that charm. And I think a boutique hotel is going to be a good thing to have.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan