Author: Donna

The fight for Bonita Island

The fight for Bonita Island

A tiny Florida beach town is rebuilding after a hurricane. Is it becoming a preserve of the rich?

MOST OF the towns are gone. Some have been turned into empty beaches and resorts in the tropics. Some, like Bayview and Bonita Springs, have been left completely, a ghost town under a palm-lined boulevard.

But the one remaining community on the Gulf Coast is fighting for its soul, with a plan to make it a tourist paradise where the moneyed come to enjoy a private beach where they can swim naked, sunbathe and watch the sun go down at Bonita Island Resort.

It’s a fight that’s now in the hands of an 18-year-old business plan student who was laid off a semester ago and is fighting for his dream.

“It’s my first real job out of school,” says Michael Rago, a 24-year-old University of Massachusetts football player, who now works as a tour guide for the island. “Basically everything that I wanted as a kid, I’ve got to give up.”

But Rago says he’s not giving up on the island just yet.

He has a plan to turn his town into a resort destination that will attract people from all over the world, but it’s not an easy sell to everyone.

“This beach is on the map, and you can drive down there and find it, but the word’resort’ is not part of the marketing plan,” he says. “It’s like a lot of things, if you name it right, you market it right, and it’ll sell itself.”

Rago says he’ll make it into a resort by offering a more low-cost business model. He wants to build a hotel on the beach, with room-for-rent and other amenities – a boutique hotel where locals can stay, but not the well-heeled guests who want to rent the whole resort. It would be operated by the UMass football team, which already operates the hotel.

He says he plans to build the hotel on land that has

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