During the past months since Hurricane Ian hit in September 2022, the SanCap Chamber has strung yellow ribbon across about 50 island businesses for owners and staff to snip in celebration of their triumph over storm destruction. On Tuesday, June 6, Chamber Board Chair Calli Johnson was doing the snipping as an estimated 125 chamber members and residents gathered to cheer the reopening of the Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center at 1159 Causeway Road.
“It’s hard to believe that on October 5, the first day we were allowed back on the island after Ian, my board members and I came back on island by boat,” Chamber President and CEO John Lai told the gathered celebrators. “Eight months seems like forever, and it seems like yesterday all at the same time. If you would have told me that we would be here eight months from that day for this occasion, I would have wanted to sip whatever it was you were drinking.”
Nearly four feet of water destroyed the digital displays and interactive guides, furnishings, and interior structure in the downstairs visitor center. Chamber staff renovated the space with a little bit of the old and a lot of new.
“You’ll find the same bright colors, same friendly faces, and same new bright technology, but new improvements as well,” said Lai. “We reconfigured the front desk area so that there is a flow of foot traffic and restored the all-popular restrooms. We’ve added comfortable seating areas so both our visitors and our residents can find respite here with family and friends.”
Johnson also spoke, thanking the city of Sanibel and council members for their help and introducing District 80 State Representative Adam Botana, who spoke on behalf of the state’s $350 million allocation to local recovery efforts.
Sanibel Mayor Richard Johnson made the surprise announcement that Sanibel’s Lighthouse Beach Park would open June 16 to resounding applause. “This is an emotional occasion,” he said of the ribbon-cutting. “This signifies another step in recovery. This signifies the return to our visitor-based economy. It signifies we are open for business!”
Lai invited attendees to enjoy food and drink provided by Blue Giraffe Restaurant following the ribbon-cutting and confetti cannon hurrah, where a mood of near-giddy joy, gratitude, and optimism prevailed.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
SanCap Chamber is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year. For more information about the chamber, contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].