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Hotelier awaits funds from federal aid program

April 22, 2020
By Nathan Mayberg ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

For Pink Shell Resort owner Robert Boykin, the town's shutdown of beach access and to most commercial lodging, has has a devastating effect on his hotel's operations.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, his resort was bustling with more than 280 employees. Now, few are working and the resort has been closed for weeks. Boykin has three people in reservations who he said are busy canceling and re-scheduling existing reservations.

Boykin said his hotel has been approved for a Payment Protection Program loan by the Small Business Administration but now that the federal program is out of money it is not clear whether he will see any of it.

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"We're approved but we don't have the money. I don't know if we're in the que to get the money or if we're on the wrong side of the teller so it's a big issue," Boykin said.

Boykin said he was told last week that he had approval but that was just as news came out that the Payroll Protection Program's $350 billion fund had already been fully appropriated to businesses.

Boykin said he had applied for a $2 million loan under the program. According to Boykin, if 75% of the loan is used for payroll and the requirements for full-time workers are met, the loan is forgiven. The money would have to be spent within 56 days of approval, he said. Currently, the Town of Fort Myers Beach is in the midst of a 90-day ban on commercial lodging with certain exceptions.

The council began discussing ways to potentially reduce the length of the ban amid mounting pressure from local hoteliers at its Monday meeting. A special meeting has been called for April 27 to discuss things further in regards to relaxing some of the emergency measures taken by the council last month in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Boykin is still unhappy that the town passed a 90-day beach ban in March which prohibited anybody from going on the beach sand, including his hotel guests. In addition the council instituted a 90-day beach ban on commercial lodging facilities with some exceptions, while other surrounding communities such as Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Naples did not do so. "Don't tell us how to do our business," Boykin said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has named hotels as an essential business, allowing them to stay open across the state unless municipalities acted otherwise.

Boykin explained how the formula for receiving the funds from the federal government and having the loan forgiven is tricky by certain dates and clauses transcribed in the law for the number of employees back to work by June 30. "We're not going to be busy right away," Boykin predicted. "We're going to slowly crawl out of this. I'm not going to need 230 employees in May."

He is hopeful that new funds for the program being discussed may be approved with less restrictions. For example, under the current law regarding the funds, he will need to bring back a number of employees out of work due to the closing of his hotel. That could prove tricky as he pointed to the extra $600 a week unemployed Floridians are expected to be receiving as part of the CARES Act, on top of the prevailing unemployment check they would receive in normal times. Boykin said that could work out to $24 an hour for some unemployed workers, about twice as much as somebody in his housekeeping department might have been making before the pandemic. "It's not an elegant process," he said.

Despite all of the flaws in the system, Boykin is impressed with the government's reaction to the crisis in some respects. "They are getting money into people's hands in warp speed for government."

He wants the politicians to stop arguing about minute details and get a new package wrapped up. "They don't need to make this a Christmas tree bill," he said. Senator Rick Scott's office said new funding is being worked on and an announcement was expected Tuesday.

On Friday, DeSantis announced that Florida received more than $4.1 billion in federal relief under the CARES Act to aid the state in responding to and recovering from COVID-19. That is about 50% of Florida's total allocation under the CARES Act.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate approved a $483 billion bill which added more than $300 billion to the Payment Protection Program and billions more to small business loan programs. The House of Representatives was taking up the legislation on Wednesday.

"The climb out of this is going to be long and hard and many are not going to make it," Boykin said.

The situation for the unemployed is "pretty dire for some of these folks," Boykin said. "Imagine if they don't do another round of funding?. This is how revolutions are started."

The longer people are without jobs, the more people who will be sent into dispair, he said.

Despite losing so much revenue during the peak of the tourist season, Boykin said his company was in good position before the pandemic took hold. "Our resources are not unlimited."



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