After years of neglect, the hotel and former restaurant is heading toward a major makeover as the newly anointed Lake Monroe Old South Motel.
With a three-year lease on the property, Kathy C. Aldrich is looking to give the banquet and lodging operation a new lease on life—refurbishing the rooms, reopening the kitchen facilities and returning luster to a jewel along Sanford’s lakefront.
“We want to make it a showcase,” said Aldrich, a retired Navy captain with a strong budgeting and management background.
Aldrich took control of the site on Oct. 25 and immediately set in motion her plan to turn the facility into a community hub. On election night, the banquet room was the scene of Sanford Mayor-elect Jeff Triplett’s victory party.
But when the party was over, a lot of work remained ahead.
The motel suffered extensive water damage in August 2008 due to the lingering deluge known as Tropical Storm Fay. Since then, about half of the 95 rooms have been shuttered, some of them still filled with debris left behind.
The site includes a separate building with a banquet room, motel lobby and front breakfast area, as well as common areas that boast an outdoor pool, a lakeside walkway along landscaped frontage, and adjacent parking lot.
In the coming weeks, the facilities will be receiving an overhaul to bring them back to life.
Assistant manager Joe Taylor said the motel would be painted, both inside and out. The modestly furnished rooms, with king-size or double beds, will get new carpeting, tile, blinds and bathroom fixtures.
The motel will also feature a new phone system, along with free Wi-Fi coverage and cable television in the rooms, he said.
The kitchen that serves the banquet room and future restaurant needs some work too, having fallen into disrepair and been idle for quite some time. There is also an adjoining room that Aldrich wants to turn into a breakfast spot in the morning and sports bar at night.
“We want the dining facilities and bar services to be up and running as soon as possible,” she said.
K.C. Aldrich & Partners, LLC is the banquet and lodging management firm for the facility. Aldrich is the general manager with a staff of seven, including housekeeping, front desk and maintenance workers.
Clearly, the planned turnaround is a family affair. Aldrich’s husband is busy helping with repairs, her brother-in-law is coming down from Chicago to be the chef, her sister is company auditor, and her parents are senior advisers.
Together, they envision a community landmark that will be central to Sanford life. Already, the potential is easy to recognize.
The restaurant/banquet space is done in dark wood, but during the day is immersed in plenty of light, emanating from floor-to-ceiling windows that run the entire 100-foot-length of the room, looking out onto the lakefront. The room also features a dance floor and 50-foot-long, richly toned bar counter.
The banquet facility is now available for booking, along with catering options. When the kitchen is operating, the menu will feature Southern, family-style cooking.
With a gazebo right on the waterfront, the facilities are ideal for weddings, holiday parties and meetings of all kinds, indoors and out.
The motel also holds promise—with lake, river, marina and poolside views; freshwater fishing; 18 marina boat slips for guests; plenty of RV/boat trailer parking; a boat ramp to Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River.
In the near future, Aldrich envisions hosting fishing tournaments, poolside happy hours and live, lakeside music during sunsets, welcoming budget-conscious travelers, water enthusiasts and Marina Island visitors of all types.
“We are looking for people who will appreciate the venue, and realize that midges were here before we were,” she laughed.
When the renewal is complete, room rates will range from $50 to $80 a night, she said, with a 10 percent discount for military personnel.
Last week two couples from South Carolina stayed at Lake Monroe Old South Motel to take in the Sanford sights. Actually, the women came for the shuttle launch while the men came for crappie. But despite the shuttle postponement, they said they found plenty to do, such as enjoying dinners at Wolfy’s on Marina Island and Joe’s Crab Shack.
“It’s just beautiful around here,” Vivian Goldman said. “It’s so pretty sitting on the benches and looking out to the lake.”
Their husbands are repeat customers, having stayed at the motel many times with their buddies every year around February for the crappies. They love the convenience of being right on the water.
A lesson in history
After her career in the Navy, it is not surprising that Aldrich also appreciates being on the water. The renovation of the motel property, she stated, will take full advantage of its prime location and bring more people to downtown Sanford. And she has the business acumen to carry out her plan.
A Florida native who grew up mostly in Naples, Aldrich graduated from Florida State University before earning master’s degrees in management and national security affairs from naval schools.
She gained management experience during the 1990s as an executive officer of Naval Station Pearl Harbor and military sealift commander off the coast of Saudi Arabia.
Most recently, she was deputy director of field support activity in Washington, D.C. In this position she managed the budget for the chief of naval operations, staff and other operations, distributing more than $1 billion annually from Congress. She retired from the military in 2008.
“I like Sanford because it reminds me a lot of Old Florida, which is where I got the name Lake Monroe Old South Motel,” she said.
“Managing a vintage motel and banquet facility on the shores of Lake Monroe gives me an opportunity to contribute to a Florida community very similar to several Southern towns where I lived. I look forward to our continued growth and improvement.”
The property she now oversees also has a history. The motel, originally built in the 1960s, was previously a Holiday Inn and Best Western. But the unique site has always inspired grand visions for reinventing Marina Island.
At one time Bob Horian, who originally leased the city-owned island, had plans to build three, 12-story condominium towers. When that didn’t fly, Horian developed the nearby Gateway at Riverwalk condominium project. In 2006, Horian sold the Marina Island lease for $12.5 million to TFA IV, owned by Frank Cerasoli.
In addition, the lease transfer included the building structures for the Palms Island Resort and Marina, Oscar’s (now Efes Turkish Restaurant), Wolfy’s and the office building along the northeastern edge of the island. The transfer of the 99-year lease did not include the Monroe Harbour Marina.
Three years ago, Cerasoli presented the city with plans for a mixed-use development that would include first-floor retail and restaurant space, along with 300 condominium units. Under that proposal, Wolfy’s, Oscar’s, the Palms Resort and the office building would have been demolished.
Later, Cerasoli proposed a four-to-six-story convention center on the east side of the island, comprised of a 150-room hotel, convention center and parking garage.
None of these projects came to fruition.
And so the Old South will rise again.