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Ponce Inlet to welcome boatel across from Ponce de Leon Lighthouse

by Staff

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PONCE INLET — Winds whip across an empty gravel parking lot on the former site of the Critter Fleet fishing charter operation across the street from the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and Museum, but John Hinton envisions a bustling new addition to the landscape.

Hinton and his business partner, Al Jarrell, are the forces behind Lighthouse Landing, a new “boatel” that will offer overnight docking and accommodations within walking distance of the historic lighthouse, restaurants, the Marine Science Center and the beach.

“It’s going to be the happening place down here, right across from the lighthouse,” said Hinton, 70, a lifelong Daytona Beach-area resident and entrepreneur well-known as the longtime owner of John’s Appliance and Bedding. “It’ll be like a riverwalk where you can dock your boat and stroll to everything.”

Hinton and Jarrell, doing business as 4940 LLC, own the waterfront property that includes the marina and the nearby Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill restaurant at 4940 S. Peninsula Drive, as well as the newly opened HT’s Sand Bar & Bistro next door.

The boatel concept revolves around a three-story waterfront structure that will feature eight boatel units that each include a slip for boat docking, covered vehicle parking and a third-floor deck that will offer a view of the Inlet and the beachfront stretching north along the Atlantic, Hinton said.

“There’s going to be a big, huge deck over here where you can dine and have that ocean view,” Hinton said. “We’ve been up on a crane to check it out and you can actually see the beach.”

New Ponce Inlet boatel represents $6M-8M investment

Hinton and Jarrell are investing $6 million-$8 million in the project, which is expected to be completed within a year and a half, they said.

Work crews are already completing a renovation that will elevate the height of the existing seawall by about 30 inches to accommodate the project, Hinton said.

“By the time that’s done, in a couple of weeks, we expect to have all the pavers for the deck,” he said. “We’ve already started on the building plans, and we have architects and engineers finalizing them. We hope to start construction in a couple of months on the eight-unit building.”

In addition to the boatel building, the project also will include two houseboats that also can be rented. One of those units already has been completed, offering a taste of the boatel’s nautical theme.

The 40-foot-long 17-foot-wide houseboat includes a queen-sized bed next to windows that look out across the water toward Disappearing Island, two sofas that also convert into twin beds, bathroom, microwave, stovetop oven burners and a fridge as well as a deck equipped with wooden deck chairs.

“You’d be able to sleep six people,” Hinton said.

Ponce Inlet leaders helped inspire boatel idea

The boatel concept surfaced in discussions that the two investors had with Ponce Inlet Town Manager Mike Disher about what kind of development would be desirable in town.

“I had never heard of the idea,” Hinton said, “but since then we’ve looked it up and actually found it in the dictionary.”

Ponce Inlet planning officials also stressed that the new project should reflect the historic nature of the lighthouse across the street, built in 1887 and declared a National Historic Monument in 1998.

“They want it to reflect the lighthouse history, the era,” Hinton said. “They want it to look like an old-fashioned fishing village.”

To meet that goal, the new structure must adhere to a strict set of building requirements within Marine B2 waterfront zoning that include units that measure no more than 750 square feet at a maximum height of 35 feet.

“They don’t want anybody closing the waterfront off with a condo,” Hinton said.

In Ponce Inlet, where town ordinances prohibit rentals for periods less than 28 days, the new boatel will provide a new attraction for boaters traveling along the Intracoastal waterway, said Darren Lear, Ponce Inlet planning and development director.

“It’ll be a place for boaters at a spot that they haven’t been able to access before,” said Lear, adding that he had been familiar with the boatel concept in other destinations.

For nearby restaurants, boatel means new customers

For the restaurants on the property, the boatel is expected to open the door to a new stream of customers. Plans are already in the works for a “Dock Dash”-style mobile app to deliver orders by tiki boat, said Sean Pike, Hidden Treasure operations director.

“This past summer, we took the tiki boat out and met customers out on the water to take potential meal orders, but it’ll be really neat when we actually have people ordering from us on an app,” he said. The mobile app could be available within a month or so, he said.

For Hinton and Jarrell, the melding of tourism, dining and the state’s plentiful boating community, is a win-win. They envision the boatel experience as something comparable to the outdoor dining at Conch House, a longtime fixture in St. Augustine.

“This whole area will be waterfront dining,” Hinton said. “There are literally thousands of boats out there and right now they don’t have anywhere to go and do that in Ponce Inlet. This will be a quaint fishing village where you can go and have fun, enjoy the wildlife and the marine experience. It’ll be like the Ponce Inlet riverwalk.”

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