MARCO ISLAND, Fla. (Circa) — One of south Florida’s most infamous landmarks was the brainchild of a millionaire who wanted a unique, self-sustaining dream home near the water. Nearly 40 years after its construction, the so-called “dome home” off Cape Romano has become a hazardous, complicated nightmare that's crumbling into the Gulf of Mexico.
The domes have an almost alien-like appearance. They poke out of the water about 200 feet from the shore not far from Marco Island. Popular with tourists and boaters, the dome home was built in the early 1980s by a Tennessee businessman.
“Everybody in Florida pretty much knows about it,” said Captain Andrew Border, a guide with Florida Adventures.
The home originally consisted of six domes strung together. A video posted to YouTube by the builder’s daughter shows it was a model of '80s glory with water views. But according to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, the home has become submerged due to erosion. It’s literally drowning, piece by piece, with two of the domes toppling in the heavy winds of Hurricane Irma last fall.
The dome home was designed to handle hurricanes, but it was badly damaged in Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Renovations were attempted, and eventually the home changed hands. Then came Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and even more extensive damage. Since then, the home has been buried in paperwork, with the back and forth between a new owner and code enforcement as frequent as the tides.
Circa obtained the records that show what was left of dome home was labeled “dangerous” by Collier County Code Enforcement as far back as 2005. Records show the owner was listed as violating county code in 2007. The violations, according to code enforcement records, resulted in a daily $250 fine that accrued for 3,844 days until the case was formally closed in May. On that date, the fines totaled more than $960,000.
A letter from Florida DEP says the property was taken over by the state as of May. It indicates the dome home is now within the Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve, an area known for its wildlife and bird population.
In the past, efforts to secure permits to move the domes to higher ground were unsuccessful. A 2015 push to raise funds and relocate the domes for use as an artificial reef stalled. State officials tell Circa that DEP’s first step now will be to determine where the property actually sits and confirm whether it’s located on sovereign submerged lands.
The agency, we’re told, will also have the final say on whether the tab in accrued fines will be waived now that the property is under state control. Circa reached out to the former property owner, John Tosto, for comment by email and phone but did not receive a response.
As Florida officials move forward with assessments, regulars to the tourist spot worry about the future of the domes.
“Obviously they can’t stand all that hurricane force standing out in the water like that,” Border said. “The pillars are getting deteriorated. And if we do have another good hurricane, most likely the four remaining domes will crash into the water.”