Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
NC landmark rebounds from Hurricane Florence – Reopening Valentine’s Weekend
Press materials – permission granted for redistribution – photo credits please

This site contains:
-The official press release announcing the reopening of Blockade Runner Beach Resort following repairs from Hurricane Florence
-Historic photos of Blockade Runner Beach Resort
-Current photos of Blockade Runner Beach Resort
-An interview with Bill and Mary Baggett, brother-sister owners and operators of Blockade Runner Beach Resort, including Nicolas Montoya, General Manager
-Photo of the Historic designation plaque presented to Blockade Runner Beach Resort by Historic Wilmington Foundation
Aerial Photo 2018 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA – Blockade Runner Beach Resort, a historic landmark and oceanfront icon of North Carolina for 55 years, announced it will reopen in time for Valentine’s Weekend. Blockade Runner closed in September to repair substantial damages sustained from Hurricane Florence.

“The reopening will be in two major stages,” said Nicolas Montoya, General Manager of Blockade Runner. “February 15 we will reopen the tower building containing the largest block of rooms at the resort. This will be followed by the reopening of the balcony building in March-April.”

“Aside from Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Hurricane Florence is the largest storm Wrightsville Beach has had as far as property destruction is concerned,” said Bill Baggett of the Baggett family, owners of Blockade Runner.

“On the outside looking in, media reports indicated that Wrightsville Beach fared very well following a direct hit by Florence. However, inside many homes and businesses, including Blockade Runner, there was water everywhere.

“I think a lot of the damage on the island has been underestimated.  Inventory will be tight at Wrightsville Beach in 2019. Tourism is a significant part of the North Carolina economy, and I hope we can get all the properties at the beach open as soon as possible.

“The hurricane losses at Blockade Runner are in three categories: the damage to our buildings and property, estimated to be five million dollars; content loss, approximately two million; and loss of business during repairs, approximately two million. The total loss will be close to ten million dollars. As you would expect, Blockade Runner was insured,” said Bill Baggett.

“The exterior and subflooring of Blockade Runner are concrete and steel,” noted Mary Baggett. “However, many interior walls were plaster and sheetrock. Seventy-five percent of these walls were replaced in the tower building, and all of these walls will be replaced in the balcony building. We lost the entire roof in the balcony building.”

“Many repairs will be unnoticeable to our guests. The majority of damages were related to roofing, walls, utilities inside the walls, and insulation. Elevators will be the last to be refurbished, but everything will come together better than ever as spring progresses,” added Ms. Baggett.

Recruited by elected and community leaders after Hurricane Hazel, Lawrence Lewis Jr. opened Blockade Runner on the former site of Ocean Terrace Hotel in 1964. The Ocean Terrace was damaged by Hazel and subsequently lost to fire, a significant setback for the coastal tourism economy in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

Lewis, the founder of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, was a descendant of American industrialist Henry Flagler, founder of Standard Oil, and developer of numerous famous resorts, including Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, and Hotel Royal Palm in Miami.

Purchased from Lewis in 1971 by Dr. Joseph Baggett of Fayetteville, Blockade Runner Beach Resort remains locally owned and operated by the Baggett family.

Designated a historic landmark by the Historic Wilmington Foundation, Blockade Runner’s mid-century design contains 120 waterfront rooms in the tower building and 30 oceanfront rooms in the balcony building.

All spring and summer events at Wrightsville Beach supported by Blockade Runner will continue as usual. These include: Valentine’s and Easter weekends; the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Marathon Madness weekend (Mar 8-9); US Open Fat Bike Beach Championship presented by Alpha Mortgage (Mar 22-24); the Carolina Cup, presented by Surftech (April 24-28); Charity Surf Camps by Indo Jax (May-Sept 2019); Wahine Classic, O’Neil Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest, and Surfers Healing (Aug 2019).



Contact:

Nicolas Montoya, General Manager
Blockade Runner Beach Resort
910-617-2946

Robert B Butler
North Carolina Press Release

Permission granted for redistribution, photo credit required

#Tourism #NorthCarolina #HurricaneFlorence #WrightsvilleBeach #BlockadeRunner #Wilmington #NHRMC #SUPCarolinaCup #SweetwaterProAm #WahineClassic #IndoJax #SurfersHealing #WBPC #ValentinesDay #HurricaneHazel 
Aerial Photo 1969 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
Blockade Runner Brochure 1971
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA – Robert B Butler interviews Bill and Mary Baggett, brother-sister owners and operators, and Nicholas Montoya, General Manager of Blockade Runner Beach Resort. This interview may be used in part or whole without attribution.

Before we begin our interview about Blockade Runner and Hurricane Florence, please give us a brief history of Blockade Runner Beach Resort.

(Mary Baggett)

“I’ll be happy to. Blockade Runner opened in 1964. The resort was built by Lawrence Lewis, Jr., at the urging of our community leaders and elected officials. Blockade Runner was constructed on the vacant site of the Ocean Terrace Hotel. The Ocean Terrace was built in 1922, severely damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and burned to the ground a year later. With no hotel at Wrightsville Beach, plus the loss of Wilmington’s Atlantic Coastal Railroad [later CSX], the Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach economy was suffering.

“Lawrence Lewis, Jr. was the founder of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, and had a wealth of experience and a family legacy in the hotel business. Lewis was a descendant of American industrialist Henry Flagler, founder of Standard Oil and developer of many famous resorts, including the Breakers Hotel and Hotel Royal Poinciana in Palm Beach, Hotel Ponce de Leon, Hotel Alcazar, and Hotel Cordova in St. Augustine, Hotel Continental in Jacksonville, Hotel Ormond in Ormond Beach, and Hotel Royal Palm in Miami.

“In 1971, after operating the resort for seven years, Mr. Lewis decided to sell the Blockade Runner. He was disillusioned because, at that time, no one came to the beach in North Carolina except in June, July, and August. My father was a visionary and decided we could make it work. He owned hotels in the mountains and loved Wrightsville Beach. So, my Dad, Dr. Joseph Baggett of Fayetteville bought the Blockade Runner from Mr. Lewis.

“Our family continues to own and operate the Blockade Runner today, almost 50 years later. I came to the property in 1984, my brother Bill joined me in 1986, and my two other brothers, Joe and Ben, joined me in 2001. Bill and I are the operating managers.

“The architectural design of Blockade Runner is mid-century with three main buildings. The tower is the largest with 120 waterfront rooms. The balcony building has 30 larger suites, and the third building houses our restaurant’s kitchen and the ballroom.

“The first building on the property was the Seashore Hotel, built in 1897 with 150 guest rooms with fireplaces. Unfortunately, the hotel burned down in 1918.”

Blockade Runner’s 55th anniversary is coming up this year?
                                   
(Mary Baggett)

“Yes. We're so excited! The anniversary is going to be on March 23rd. When the hotel opened in 1964, it was a big event in Wilmington and North Carolina. The Star News and most major papers in North Carolina covered the opening with interviews and photographs.

“And the big excitement was that this facility, the Blockade Runner, was the first major property built on the coast in North Carolina since Hurricane Hazel. It was the first major hotel with meeting space in the state of North Carolina on the coast, and the largest one in the Carolinas. At that point, there was the Patricia Hotel in Myrtle Beach, but the Patricia was originally designed for individual stays without a large meeting space. 

“Forty-four (44) North Carolina associations and regional southern associations had their annual conferences with Blockade Runner the year of the opening, in 1964.

“It's a very significant date in March, and we are excited to be able to celebrate our 55th.”       
   
Focusing on the major hurricanes at Wrightsville Beach, is Hurricane Florence the worst in the history of Blockade Runner?

(Bill Baggett)

“Aside from Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Hurricane Florence is the largest storm Wrightsville Beach has had as far as property destruction is concerned. Florence was forecast as a Category 2.

“We went through Hurricane Fran, a category 3 plus storm, and stayed on the property. Hurricane Florence was a stronger storm than Fran. Hurricane Florence blew parts of the building apart that Fran didn't; it wasn't even close.

“We had no damage with Hurricane Fran. With Florence for example, the northeast parapet wall was completely torn off. Fran couldn't have done that.

“I've never seen this much damage, and I think the Wrightsville Beach building department here can tell you the same thing. But monetarily, certainly, Hurricane Florence is the worst storm since Hazel.”     
  
Initial reports indicated that Wrightsville Beach fared pretty well. What happened?

(Bill Baggett)

“On the outside looking in, media reports indicated that Wrightsville Beach fared very well following a direct hit by Florence. However, inside many homes and businesses, including Blockade Runner, there was water everywhere.

“I think most of the damage was on roofs, and roofs damage can be very hard to understand. For example, people that have cottages, their roofs lifted, and water came in, and they never know there was any damage. Or, the commercial buildings, when you rode by them, they looked fine. But many were completely destroyed on the inside with water damage.”  

Did you stay at the Blockade Runner during Hurricane Florence?

(Mary Baggett)        

“We did. Bill, my husband, our attorney and friend, Clay Collier, another friend who lives north of us, and my landscaper, who's been with me for thirty plus years, Aubrey Doggett. Aubrey is in charge of all our landscaping and chose to join us. We also had three brave young men that volunteered from our staff that wanted to stay. By staying during the storm, we were all constantly mitigating damage.

“We had a lot of water. And, at the moment I saw the roof in the parking lot and all over the property, I immediately went to my phone, called my insurance agent and broker to make sure she got us immediately on the list that we experienced major damage, with the total loss of one roof.”

(continued below)
Mary Baggett, owner and operator, Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Blockade Runner has been closed for repairs for four months as of mid-January. When do you plan to reopen?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“The reopening will be in two major stages. Valentine’s Day, February 15, we will reopen the tower building containing the largest block of rooms at the resort. This will be followed by the reopening of the balcony building in March - April.

“We removed virtually all of the sheetrock in both buildings and rebuilt the walls and contents inside each building. This provided an opportunity to add more insulation, providing more soundproofing and a more comfortable environment during weather extremes.”

(Bill Baggett)

“In addition to Mary calling our insurance agent, when I realized the damage the first day of the storm, I contacted a friend, a former executive with Belfor, a global disaster recovery company.

“He called Belfor for me. They were here almost immediately. Belfor has been involved in every major disaster across the country. They are very qualified and do a great job, putting things back together better than they were.

“Our diesel generator played a crucial role in our ability to recover, even before the storm was over. The generator gave us a quick start when the building and island were without power. I think that was extremely important in our speed in getting this project done, and the ability to do it properly.”

Can you estimate the damages, cost of repairs, related to Hurricane Florence?

(Bill Baggett)

“The hurricane losses at Blockade Runner are in three categories: the damage to our buildings and property, estimated to be five million; content loss, approximately two million; and loss of business during repairs, approximately two million. The total loss will be close to ten million dollars.”
           
And this event was insured?

(Bill Baggett)

“As you would expect, Blockade Runner was insured.”
         
Was the Blockade Runner cottage damaged?

(Bill Baggett)

“No, sir.”

Were you able to retain the Blockade Runner staff during restoration?

(Bill Baggett)

“We retained all our key people, and of course, business interruption insurance helps pay for that kind of thing.”

How many rooms are at the Blockade Runner?

(Bill Baggett)

“One hundred fifty rooms.”

How many rooms were damaged, requiring repairs?

(Bill Baggett)

“I would say just about all of them.”

(Mary Baggett)
       
“All of them.”

(Bill Baggett)

“The water damage is surprising. Also, the top floor is usually damaged less than the bottom floor. That's unusual. I didn't really realize that effect, but that's the way it is.”

(Mary Baggett)
   
“Gravity.”

(Mary Baggett)
     
“The exterior and subflooring of Blockade Runner are concrete and steel. However, many interior walls were plaster and sheetrock. Seventy-five percent of these walls were replaced in the tower building and all of these walls will be replaced in the balcony building. We lost the entire roof in the balcony building.

“Many repairs will be unnoticeable to our guests. The majority of damages were related to roofing, walls, utilities inside the walls, and insulation. Elevators will be the last to be refurbished, but everything will come together better than ever as spring progresses.”

Any structural issues?

(Bill Baggett)

“No.”

So, the balcony building experienced the most damage?

(Mary Baggett)
       
“The balcony building was damaged most because the entire roof peeled off. And by peeling off, we mean that it took the outer surfaces, the veneers, the stucco, the brick, from the roof down. The parapet was blown off, and everything was all over the parking lot.”

What repairs were required in the tower?

(Mary Baggett)
     
“Sheetrock. And obviously, electrical and anything else that had water intrusion. While the roof on the tower did not blow off, we experienced a lot of water intrusion, as the wind lifted the roofing membrane. We also lost five vent covers. Massive vent covers that are on the roof for the pressure and circulation of air in the building. They blew off, and consequently, with the 45 inches of rain during the storm, that's where we had tremendous penetration.”

Were repairs required on the first floor in the common areas? Where and what kind?

(Mary Baggett)
  
“All the flooring in all our meeting spaces, is gone. We had reclaimed teak on our floors in the Ballroom, which is a product that you can't get in the country anymore. These are obstacles we've been facing during the repair process.

“The same thing happened in our Nighthawk Room, which is a meeting space that's a little bit smaller. It also had all wood floors. They were all buckled up and destroyed. They're being replaced with all new wood floors, and the walls are being replaced. We had water that penetrated into the room, going down through the walls.

“We're finishing the tower rooms, and at the same time, working on our restaurant, which part of the balcony building on the main floor. The entire restaurant, meeting space, and facilities on the first floor were all gutted for repair.

“And so, we're going to be back better than ever with a very enjoyable space, with the storm giving us an opportunity to rework a bit and hopefully make everything more accommodating for the guests.”

What will customers see when they return to the Blockade Runner? Was most of the damage behind the wall?

(Mary Baggett)

“Most of the damage was very much behind the wall, and down the walls, but all of that is being replaced by the time customers are allowed into each area. When customers come into the building right now, the elevators have not been renovated. And they will not be completed until the entire tower is finished, meaning all the guest rooms on every floor level.

“Replacement furnishings were ordered in October, as soon as we could gauge the damages. Shipments are arriving almost daily, but some delivery dates might trickle into April or May. Regardless, we have to operate, and we’ll make it work.”

(continued below)
Bill Baggett, owner and operator, Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Is the oceanfront beach in good shape?

(Mary Baggett)

“Oh, it's fantastic. To consider what we went through in the building, and then to go out there and see the beach afterward, I feel we are so blessed. Our local government, our state government, and representatives in Congress have worked hard to maintain re-nourishment projects on this island. With their foresight and managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the beach is re-nourished every four years, with local, state and federal funding. We were fortunate that Hurricane Florence happened the year after our refurbishment.”

Is the soundside beach in good shape?

(Mary Baggett)

“The soundside is remarkably in great shape, too. We had damages to our piers and some loss of watercraft, but we are very, very fortunate. We have an excellent crew, two licensed captains, and they prepped the property along with the guidance of Nicholas and Bill, to get everything staged out of here before the storm came, put into dry storage, or put into trailers.

“We were very fortunate. Our bulkhead and our beach are still gorgeous, and the only other damage we had was to our floating docks, and those have all been repaired.”

The garden on the oceanfront at Blockade Runner is a major attraction. Did the garden survive the hurricane, and what is the condition of the garden?

(Mary Baggett)
   
“If you were to talk to Aubrey Doggett, our landscaper that stayed with through the storm, all the rain that came and was horrible for the buildings, it was wonderful for the plants. The rain washed away all the salt that blew in with the storm.

“We did not have any water intrusion from sound or sea, onto the property. No over-wash. We were very fortunate in that sense, and we have been maintaining our gardens because they're a significant investment for us. We have invested in our gardens for thirty plus years. We have hothouses that we operate, and we raise all our plants from seedlings. All of that was already underway. We had the plants in the greenhouse prepared for our winter planting. We had everything. We were fortunate enough to maintain all those through the storm, and fortunately, the greenhouse survived.

“So, we have an entire crew out there keeping our yard looking wonderful even today. We have all our winter plantings in. It's gorgeous. I don't know if you've had the chance, Robert, to walk around and see it, but it is absolutely beautiful, what they've done.
“We have tons of kale and lettuces and pansies, and snapdragons. It's beautiful.

“The week that we knew the storm was coming, the landscaper, Aubrey Doggett and his crew, went out and removed every large plant we had that would've been shredded in the wind and rain. They potted them up and transferred them all to our greenhouse for safety reasons. We have big investments. We have hibiscus that we've had on this property for fifteen years now. And so, we always remove them and put them into the hothouse for the winter.

“All of this had to be done really quick. And it was everybody out there, I mean, there were a lot of people out in the yard, scurrying around, putting things into pots and transplanting them to get them off our property before the hurricane. Storm surge is one of the biggest things they talk about, and we have experienced storm surge over the dunes in prior years by hurricanes. While this hurricane was worse than the others for our buildings, fortunately, we didn't have the storm surge.”

Tell us about your two social media stars, the cat and the rabbit.

(Mary Baggett)

“Yes! We still have our stars. Bill, you should talk about Gracie, your cat.”

(Bill Baggett)

“Gracie's still well. She went into town during the hurricane, so she enjoyed her sabbatical.”

How does the closing, and now the reopening of Blockade Runner Beach Resort impact the local community, the regional community, and Eastern North Carolina?

(Bill Baggett)

“In 1964, it was essential that Blockade Runner be built. The hotel contributed tremendously to the regional economy. I think we have a very similar situation today in that there is so much inventory off the market – homes, condos, hotels, and resorts. I think the reopening of resorts is very important to the community as a whole, not only the jobs and income they produce, but the exposure they produce for retirees and students and people coming to the area to live and enjoy life here.”

What do you think the room inventory situation will be at Wrightsville Beach for spring and summer 2019?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“Well, I think that we have been very lucky and fortunate in working with Belfor Disaster Recovery, so we are coming back sooner than originally thought. With that being said, there’re varying degrees of realities for our vacation home rental inventory and some of the other hotel inventory that will still have an adverse effect for Wrightsville Beach, in general.”

So, inventory will be tight.

(Nicolas Montoya)

“Yes.”

(Bill Baggett)

“I think a lot of the damage on the island has been underestimated.  Inventory will be tight at Wrightsville Beach in 2019. Tourism is a significant part of the North Carolina economy, and I hope we can get all the properties at the beach open as soon as possible.

“For example, a lot of the condominiums, you couldn't see the damage initially. A lot of them had roof damage and interior water damage. Many have had various problems in getting labor to fix these things. We were fortunate to have a construction company on site the day the storm ended. That was very important for getting the hotel reopened in such a fast and correct manner.”

(continued below)
Nicolas Montoya, General Manager, Blockade Runner Beach Resort
Blockade Runner seems to be the hub of events and activity at Wrightsville Beach. Will you be hosting all of the usual spring, summer, and fall events in 2019? What will be included this year, or excluded this year?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“We will be including all of the regular activities, nothing will be canceled.”

Will you have your full line of activities for customers on the beach, sound, and lawn?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“They will all be offered. Hopefully, we'll add a few more.”

Will food be available at the Blockade Runner? Will your restaurant be open?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“Yes.”

Who are some of the celebrities who have stayed here over the past 55 years?

(Bill Baggett)

“There are so many I wouldn't even know where to start. We've had everybody from John Kennedy Jr., to Will Ferrell, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, the entire cast of East Bound and Down including Danny McBride, John Travolta, Joey Bishop, Robert Downey, Jr., Colonel Sanders, Richard Gere, Isabella Rossellini, even Marilyn Manson. Many of the movie stars filming in Wilmington have stayed at Blockade Runner.”

What are you hearing from your customers about the closing of Blockade Runner due to hurricane Florence?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“Well, being a 55-year-old property, we have a lot of families in North Carolina that have grown up with the hotel. So, we've received a lot of positive messages of support, of encouragement, of excitement, positive anxiety of hearing when we will reopen, and a lot of solidarity messages across the state and beyond.”

Is there anything you would like to say to the people of North Carolina and your base of followers around the country and around the world?

(Nicolas Montoya)

“I would like to say thank you. We're excited to see them all back again. We will be open soon enough. We will be excited to welcome each and every one of them back, and anxious to do well by them.”

(Bill Baggett)

“Yes. I think our customer base has always been a strong one. We're into, probably, our third generation or fourth generation of North Carolinians that have stayed with us. We thank them for their support and welcome them back again for another year, and a new generation.”

Last question. Is there anything I've overlooked that you would like to add?

(Bill Baggett)

“Just that, I think that we're happy to be able to reopen again, so soon. It's been a lot of hard work. I believe that the community welcomes this. Tourism is very important to the economy in eastern North Carolina.”

(Nicolas Montoya)

“I want to add a few thoughts to Bill’s message. Sometimes I reflect and think, “What is it that we do?” I believe the history of the Blockade Runner is very much aligned with the history of Wrightsville Beach and North Carolina. Building a resort back in the 1960s at Wrightsville Beach had a tremendous impact not only on Wrightsville Beach but for Eastern North Carolina. The influence this had over the next three, four decades, in terms of economic development, helping to bring I-40 all the way to completion, and growth to the region.

“I think we'd be remiss if we didn’t take in account the widespread damage of Hurricane Florence, devastating to so many different businesses and people in Eastern North Carolina and beyond. While this interview is particular to the Blockade Runner, let us remember the number of hotels and resorts that are now in the area, underlying the fact that we are now a destination, which is what our leaders were seeking to do back in the 60s when they provided the land and sought Lawrence Lewis, Jr. to build a hotel at Wrightsville Beach.

“Now that coastal North Carolina is maturing as a destination, the interruption of hospitality services highlights the importance of tourism to our citizens and coastal economy. I think this is an important thing not to be forgotten. We should embrace tourism and not put it aside.”

Thank you for your time, Mary Baggett, Nicolas Montoya, and Bill Baggett.

An interview by Robert B Butler with Bill and Mary Baggett, brother-sister owners and operators, and Nicholas Montoya, General Manager of Blockade Runner Beach Resort. This interview may be used in part or whole without attribution.
Aerial Photo 2018 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
Aerial Photo 2018 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
Aerial Photo 2018 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
Aerial Photo 2018 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
Aerial Photo 2018 – Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
1964 Lobby display – Blockade Runner Beach Resort, Wrightsville Beach
Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach
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Blockade Runner Wrightsville Beach

Blockade Runner Beach Resort Wrightsville Beach, NC Hurricane Florence Robert B Butler Communications & Public Relations
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