by Jesse Monteagudo -
SGN Contributing Writer
On December 8, Vitambi Springs Florida Wilderness Resort & Camp sent out a lengthy e-mail message, in English and Spanish, "To the Friends of Vitambi." This message led to much concern and discussion among past and present guests of Vitambi, on Facebook and other forums: "After much debate, soul-searching, and nonstop attempts to find solutions, we must inform you that Vitambi Springs Resort & Camp is making plans to permanently close business. Without a miraculous intervention, we plan to close sometime in late January. The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a fatal blow to business operations and there is no relief in sight.
"We've been here 10 years now and have built a community. We've also created a beautiful place with great value. It is unfortunate in these difficult times that others would scheme to benefit from the difficulties of others. It's equally unfortunate that our government and community institutions have not been able to help.
"While there is time to save this treasure, and we will try, we don't want to be one of those businesses that suddenly disappear. We owe our staff and our guests the ability to make plans for this loss. We can't wait until it is too late. We are trying to hang in there these last two months but honestly, it will take more reservations to keep the lights on. If you need to get away, a walk in the woods, or a chance to thank our amazing staff please consider a reservation over the next months."
Vitambi's ominous email came at a time when too many LGBT venues were going out of business because of Covid-19. Orlando's legendary Parliament House closed less than two months ago. While Vitambi's message caused much consternation in social media, business partners Steve McCloud and Martin Ruddock are not as alarmed as their message might imply. "We believe having a conversation is much better than not having that conversation," they say. "Simply put, the deadline to refinance our mortgage is Jan. 31st. We want to pull the fire alarm prior to the flames getting out of hand. While we continue to seek out all solutions, we felt it would be unfair to leave our guests in the lurch. What we want is the opportunity to have a discussion with our friends and guests to find a way to approach the problem responsively. And we have been having thoughtful, productive conversations with lots of people. It is a very different conversation than anyone is likely to have on Facebook."
The WildFyre Society, a South Florida social group for nudist men, took note of Vitambi's plight and sent out its own message on December 9. "The WildFyre Society has been a steady supporter of Vitambi Springs Florida Wilderness Resort & Camp for years, showcasing all of its nude weekends on our schedule. We are writing with a special request to support the campground now. Yesterday, Vitambi Springs announced that it is in dire straits, partially as a result of COVID-19 challenges. It advised of a potential shutdown in a couple of months if nothing changes. There are two ways to help the campground survive to better times." WildFyre's first suggestion was for its members to make reservations and spend their weekends at Vitambi. Its second suggestion was for someone to raise "a temporary, private bridge loan to make up for Vitambi Springs' mortgage, which is being called in by the previous owner, who wishes to disengage. It involves approximately $1.5 million on a 269-acre property recently assessed at $4.8 million."
To this suggestion, Ruddock and McCloud agree that "a bridge loan is a perfect example of what is needed. We have a history of seeking out that solution and it's not been easy. Jumping into an agreement in the hard-money lending market is risky and requires caution. We have been told on more than one occasion that there are many mainstream lenders that do not want an LGBT 'clothing optional' business in their portfolio. Additionally, many lenders are averse to collateralizing property in a rural area. It is not an impossible route, but it has been tricky and unattainable thus far." As to WildFyre's first suggestion, Ruddock says that "Vitambi Springs is happy to market specifically to our naturist guests with our N-VS weekends (Naturists at Vitambi Springs) and we would be open to hosting more of them." (Their next naturist weekend, N-VS Jungle, will take place January 8-10. Vitambi also holds special weekends for clubs, women, leathermen, athletes, outdoor adventure enthusiasts, bears and holidays.)
"In a perfect world we would find a private bridge loan for 2-3 years to address our current mortgage issue. Beyond that, Vitambi Springs needs to expand to capture the overwhelming demand for RVs and private cabins with bathrooms. Our current problems are worsened by being too small an operation. We have approved plans to expand but need the funding. Adding a few RV space is not a simple task. It requires a significant development of infrastructure to handle septic, water, and power. It's a big job.
"The Gay community has been extremely supportive, and we thank everyone who has reached out to us wanting to help. The outpouring from our fan base has been amazing and at times emotional. It inspires us to continue to seek out every available solution." Vitambi Springs Florida Wilderness Resort & Camp is a valuable resource, and it must be maintained.
For more information about Vitambi Springs, contact them at PO Box 100, Clewiston, FL 33440; (863) 983-8488; or Vitambi.com.