Fort Lauderdale’s Grand Resort and Spa recovers from Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy Grand Resort and Spa)

Irma bypasses Fort Lauderdale, but gay haven Key West took a beating

LGBT businesses in Key West, Fla., took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma earlier this month, and the area incurred severe devastation, but beachfront businesses in gay-popular Fort Lauderdale appear mostly to have dodged a bullet.

Fort Lauderdale is second only to Palm Springs in abundance of gay resorts. Most of the LGBT hotels are just steps away from the ocean and were included in a mandatory evacuation order. The Keys were also under evacuation, but thousands stayed behind anyway, including a hearty group that holed up through the storm in a gay hotel.

The good news for FtL is that Irma veered to Florida’s west coast. The city got hit hard, but businesses there are already on the mend and optimistic about opening soon.

The Grand Resort and Spa, just two blocks from Fort Lauderdale Beach, reported only minimal damage, and employees were on the job cleaning up the day after the storm passed. Photos posted to the resort’s Facebook page showed most of the property’s lush vegetation intact. But one of the two palm trees in front of the property appeared to have had all of its foliage blown off. The resort said it expected to have the property fully cleaned up by the end of this week and would announce later when it would reopen.

The Grand’s neighbor — and the largest gay resort in Fort Lauderdale — The Worthington Resorts also reported minimal damage. The resort’s Facebook page noted that someone who lives at a residential tower overlooking the property had reported that although fencing and trees were damaged, there appeared to be no broken windows or structural damage.

“We can repair the resort and plant new trees,” Worthington’s owner Jim Durham wrote. “We have been here before with Hurricane Wilma [in 2005]. God bless, thank you for all your thoughts and prayers, it apparently worked.”

In Key West, a small group of people took shelter in the New Orleans House, which is owned by Joey Schroeder, who also owns the adjacent Bourbon St. Pub. Through a Facebook post, he relayed that Garden Bar, just behind the main pub, which includes a pool, is “unrecognizable” and that no trees on the property were left standing.

The post noted that Schroeder saw numerous trees on top of cars and homes throughout the island but that the flooding was not as bad as in Hurricane Wilma. That 2005 storm flooded an estimated 60 percent of the island. Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers told CNN that Wilma also caused more structural damage on the Keys than did Irma.

Schroeder noted that the damage was most noticeable in the destruction of the island’s foliage: “All trees in Bayview park are down. All trees have been stripped of their leaves.” The business owner continued, “It was like a huge weed whacker hit the island. All signs, canopies, etc. have been ripped down.” Schroeder added that it will be “awhile before Key West is back up and running.”

Key West’s legendary Island House, which often tops lists as being among the best gay resorts in the world, reported that it suffered significant but “fixable” damage. The resort posted on its Facebook page, “There are several big trees down, including the big gumbo limbo and rubber tree next door to the resort. Fortunately they didn’t fall on anything.                       

— Ed Walsh 

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 22, 2017.