Hurricane Ian reinforced goals Timbers Resorts already had set to bring South Seas Island Resort to four- or five-star standards with a focus on the environment and a sense of place, CEO Greg Spencer told a full house at the Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort in Fort Myers for the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce business lunch on Jan. 18. The storm hit exactly 364 days after the global resort management firm purchased South Seas.
“We plan to make South Seas the number one multi-generation resort in the U.S. That’s our goal,” said Spencer, who grew up in Florida and visited Sanibel and Captiva islands often. “You’ll see it in everything we do – a focus on Captiva. That’s why people are coming here. It’s the thrill of driving across the causeway. It’s the beauty of Pine Island Sound.”
Immediate plans for the resort include stabilizing facilities, then reopening the hotel and main swimming pool by September, Spencer told chamber members, who met jointly with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association that day.
Long-term goals will bring reconceptualization of the resort’s food and beverage operations and golf course, plus the building of amenities-rich Captiva Club. Rather than keeping all amenities congregated at the island’s northernmost end, the new site map will spread them throughout the 330-acre property.
Also in the long term, the resort is setting up a foundation so owners and guests can contribute to the local environment. “I want to be able to be a funding source for sea turtles, restoring sea grass,” said Spencer. “If that starts happening, along with amenities, it will help everything on the resort. It will help all of Captiva and the businesses on Sanibel.”
Timbers Resorts already has demonstrated its community commitment by commissioning in 2022 a vulnerability assessment for all of Captiva to determine steps needed for future resiliency efforts and to facilitate grant monies. After Ian, it turned land formerly occupied by decrepit employee housing into a landing pad and transported some of the first recovery equipment to the island.
“We estimate we had eight-and-a-half feet of storm surge,” Spencer said. “We took a pretty good hit. Almost every building on property needs a new roof.” All of the resort offices and support functions were totally destroyed, and retail buildings like the former Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille were rendered likely unsalvageable. The marina on the surface looked good, but divers have been cleaning up below the waterline, and gas pumps were destroyed.
Golf course and water park renovations will be designed with the company’s multi-generational blueprint in mind. Timbers Resorts will assist homeowner associations with their restoration as well. It aims to raise South Seas’ reputation to the level of its 16 other award-winning resorts.
“We look forward with eager anticipation to South Seas’ comeback as the island gem it once was, and even more,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “I think Greg has instilled a sense of hope and pride in us all today. We thank him and Gavin’s Ace Hardware, which graciously sponsored the gathering.”
He announced the next business luncheon on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Old Captiva House at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort on Captiva Island, featuring speaker Tony Lapi, president of Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, which oversees ‘Tween Waters and its sister properties throughout the islands. Lai told chamber members that Islands Night will still go on in 2023, scheduled for May 3 at Hammond Stadium.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. Its website, sanibel-captiva.org, receives over 1.3 million visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].