Case Study: How Structural Engineering Reinforced Margaritaville Fort Myers Beach Against Hurricane Ian

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Case Study: How Structural Engineering Reinforced Margaritaville Fort Myers Beach Against Hurricane Ian

In 2018, TPI Hospitality hired Ramaker to provide architectural design and aquatic, MEP, and structural engineering services for Margaritaville Resort, a new 254-room luxury hotel under the umbrella of Jimmy Buffet’s hospitality brand. The resort will also feature an outdoor aquatics venue, multiple restaurants, and a spa.

Construction of the hotel began in 2021 and was 60% complete when the unthinkable happened. In September 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Fort Myers Beach, Florida, and the surrounding areas, leaving massive destruction in its wake. After being hit with up to 150 MPH winds, many of the island’s buildings did not survive, but the town’s close-knit residents and business owners have come together to help the community rebuild and look towards the future of Fort Myers Beach.

Margaritaville Resort’s waterfront location is the perfect spot for vacationers seeking fun in the sun, but in the aftermath of the hurricane, the island was completely underwater. While the resort did not escape unscathed, much of the structure remained standing after the storm passed.

Case Study: How Structural Engineering Reinforced Margaritaville Fort  Myers Beach Against Hurricane Ian

Debris surrounding one of the Margaritaville buildings after the hurricane.

Putting Structural Engineering Techniques to the Ultimate Test

Margaritaville’s resilience in the face of Hurricane Ian is a testament to the durability of its construction and the dedication of its owners and staff. When designing buildings in areas prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or floods, structural engineers must consider a wide range of factors to ensure that the structure can withstand the forces of nature and protect its occupants. Because of the project’s proximity to the water, the hotel was designed with hurricane resistance in mind.

“Our design and engineering team spent a lot of time ensuring that if a natural disaster were to occur, the structure would remain sound.” said Kali Mullvain, PE, one of Ramaker’s Structural Engineers. “It doesn’t happen often where your designs are put to the test before construction is even complete. But all things considered, I’m proud of the work we did and the way it performed.”

Damaged columns (left) and floor slabs (right) will need to be replaced.

The structures for buildings 1, 2, and 3 remained intact after the storm. All roof trusses remained intact as well, and only minimal amounts of roof membrane came off. None of these buildings sustained significant structural damage. There are a few columns that need to be replaced due to damage and several areas of non-structural floor slabs that experienced washout, causing cracks in the concrete and grading issues.

Breakaway walls performed as designed. The breakaway portions of the walls collapsed, allowing water to flow through the opening, leaving the main structure of the building intact.

Any elements located below flood elevation that were not part of the primary structure incorporated frangible, or breakaway, construction, designed to collapse and break apart under the stress of flooding to lessen the area being impacted by a storm. This reduced the surface area of the building, preventing additional forces from pushing against the main structure of the building.

Building 4 before and after the hurricane.

Building 4, an existing building at grade, experienced the most structural damage. Built in the 1920s, this structure had survived a few other major hurricanes even though the walls were not reinforced. During construction, interior masonry walls were added to some areas to provide additional stability for the roof.  Without those walls, the building would likely have been flattened. For safety reasons, the building was demolished after the storm.

Electrical components (left) and door frames (right) were some of the materials damaged by the storm.

In addition to the damage that affected portions of the project that were already built, construction materials that were stockpiled and staged had to be removed or replaced. As the water receded, the buildings were left with several feet of scouring and washout. Debris littered the site, requiring a substantial cleanup effort.

An aerial view of the hotel site taken at the end of February 2023.

Looking Forward to the Future

After a nearly four-month delay, construction is back in full swing with the anticipated opening being pushed back from September to November 2023. By incorporating resilient design and strong structural engineering, Margaritaville Resort was able to emerge from the storm relatively unscathed, while many other buildings in the area suffered significant damage.

A rendering of what the completed Margaritaville Resort will look like.

Looking forward, as climate change becomes more prevalent, increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters, infrastructure design must adjust accordingly. Fort Myers Beach and its dedicated residents continue to rebuild and incorporate storm-safe design, which will secure the future of the community for generations to come.

“The development team has faced many obstacles during the course of this project,” said Kevin Hanson, Ramaker’s senior project manager in the Hospitality department. “I commend TPI Hospitality’s team, DeAngelis Diamond’s construction team, and Ramaker’s design team on their resilience and expertise as we continue to see this project move to the finish line. The finished hotel will be a vibrant community addition and a key component for the future for Fort Myers Beach.”

Need an experienced A&E team for your next hotel projects? Ramaker’s hospitality team has developed close relationships with major franchisors, keeping our architects and interior designers up to date with the latest brand standards and hotel design trends.

Learn more about the firm’s hospitality experience here.

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