(Bloomberg) -- Even money from billionaire Carlos Slim is only doing so much for Acapulco.

Along the city’s beaches — where in another era Hollywood stars and vacationing millionaires created a heady mix of money and glamour — hotels and condo buildings look like empty shells. Most are abandoned, with missing facades and swimming pools full of muck.

It’s a grim scene after Hurricane Otis tore into the city in October as a Category 5 storm, leaving at least 50 people dead and an economic toll estimated at about $20 billion. Insurance companies have paid out just 9 billion pesos ($530 million) to property owners, according to government figures, and private investment has so far fallen well short of what’s needed to revitalize the city. Slim has sought help from others to invest in Acapulco, but had little luck so far. At least one flat out said no.

Bankers descending on Acapulco this week for a conference — Mexico’s biggest annual event for the finance industry — will be inland at the Palacio Mundo Imperial hotel, rather than at the iconic pyramid-shaped Princess Hotel on the beach, which was largely destroyed by the storm. Hotel capacity is now less than half what it was, according to Francisco Madrid, head of the Sustainable Tourism Advanced Research Center at Anahuac University in Cancun.

More than half the city’s traffic lights aren’t working, streets are cluttered with trash and washed-out roads have left some areas inaccessible. Many upscale restaurants are shut, and the marina is still filled with half-sunk yachts and other debris. The destruction curtailed fumigation efforts, and swarms of mosquitoes are causing an outbreak of dengue fever. Gangs looted hundreds of stores after the hurricane and remain in control of large parts of the city, mostly outside tourist areas.

“The recovery process seems to be going more slowly that I would expect,” said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. “Dengue fever and the ongoing problems with crime and corruption in the reconstruction process means recovery will be delayed and risky for some time.” 

Acapulco was already decades past its prime before Otis arrived. Known as a paradise for Hollywood celebrities like Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1940s and 1950s, and glamorous enough to be used as the setting for the Acapulco H.E.A.T. television series in the 1990s, in more recent years it was eclipsed by beach destinations like Cancun, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta for overseas tourists. Acapulco went more down market, catering to middle-class families who piled into modest hotels and wealthier Mexicans who made the four-hour trip by car from Mexico City on weekends but didn’t often venture anywhere beyond the beaches.

There’s hope that the storm might provide an opportunity to restore some of Acapulco’s former glory with new hotels and attractions.

Slim, Mexico’s richest person, is undertaking a renovation of his Calinda Beach Hotel after it was damaged in the storm. He’s also helped with private-sector efforts to support the city, organizing brigades to collect garbage and using hundreds of Grupo Carso workers to rebuild communications infrastructure.

“The owner loves Acapulco very much and has invested a lot in Acapulco,” said Javier Mestiza, the hotel’s general manager. “He sees a lot of potential.”

Jorge Perez, the billionaire founder of Miami-based developer Related Group, said the Slim family had approached him about investing in Acapulco. Related, a dominant force in Florida real estate, has expanded into high-end projects across Mexico over recent years, including in Mexico City, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.

To Perez, rebuilding Acapulco will take a long time and might not ultimately address some of its long-standing issues. He said Related sold land it used to own in Acapulco in the past because that region had turned “low market, and we could not make a spread.”

“At this point — and that could change — but at this point we’re not involved,” he said.

A spokesman for Slim declined to comment.

Mundo Imperial, a closely held company that owned three high-end hotels in Acapulco, is spending more than $130 million on renovations and repairs. The group controls 70% of the city’s five-star rooms, and is now operating at more than 70% of capacity.

“Acapulco is going to come back better than ever,” Chief Executive Officer Seyed Rezvani said in an interview. “We will have a sustainable Acapulco, with better facilities for all the hotels.”

Reconstruction is likely to be discussed at the banking conference, where presidential candidates, including frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum, will make appearances ahead of the June vote. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government said in November it planned to spend about 61.3 billion pesos to help with rebuilding.

Read more: To see the latest update from Mexico's polls, see the Bloomberg Poll Tracker

With the recovery effort concentrated at the nicest hotels, day-to-day life for the poorest is very different, with many struggling to rebuild.

Ofe Quiros, who sells silver jewelry in Acapulco’s central plaza, said she received a 35,000 peso grant from the government, but it wasn’t enough to fix the roof and a wall of her house. 

“We depend on tourism, and people are not coming back,” Quiros said.

Manuel Athie, a real estate agent at developer Ayya Inmobiliaria, says that luxury apartments in good condition are in high demand, partly from people whose condos were destroyed in the storm. His company operates five projects in Acapulco and plans to start construction on two more within six months.

“With all the buildings that were destroyed, the demand for new apartments is going to be much higher,” Athie said. “If we are one of the few companies offering apartments, we will have a great advantage.”

Grisanta Sanchez, a 65-year-old who sells beach hats to tourists, struggles to match his optimism. She spent more than six hours roaming the mostly empty sand on a recent day, searching in vain for someone interested in her wares.

“I’m leaving again today without selling anything,” she said.

--With assistance from Felipe Marques and Andrea Navarro.

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