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Margaritaville Beach Resort celebrates its mark on Fort Myers Beach, lauds the town's resilience

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Tom James
/
WGCU
David Cesario, the vice president and opening general manager of the Margaritaville Beach Resort speaks of his excitement for what the resort will bring to Fort Myers Beach.

The developers of Margaritaville Beach Resort hosted a topping off celebration to acknowledge the DeAngelis Diamond construction team and how Fort Myers Beach is progressing since Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida 114 days ago.

Town officials of Fort Myers Beach came to the event to speak on behalf of local businesses and residents.

“Let us all also recognize that all across the island, every day, we are experiencing a personal topping off ceremony as neighbors welcome neighbors back home and we dine in our favorite restaurants, and we shop at our local retailers,” Mayor Dan Allers said. “We just need to look across the street to realize there is still much more work to do. But as one who personally witnessed the devastation to this island, and the day after Ian struck, I can tell you we have made unparalleled progress.”

Robert Kisabeth, the chief operating officer of TPI Hospitality, announced that the resort is placing sheetrock, plumbing, and electric into the soon-to-be resort.

"The biggest thing is really the electric, copper, door frames, sliding doors, a lot of construction materials that were lost in the hurricane,” Kisabeth said.

He says they are committed to opening the Margaritaville Beach Resort at the end of 2023.

"The Margaritaville brand, aspires to create relaxation, fun and escapism and to me, it goes perfectly with Fort Myers Beach,” David Cesario, the vice president and opening general manager of the resort, said.

The resort will open 200 new jobs to hotel workers in the area.

“I tell people, the culture of this island is very special. I think that's where we're all working toward,” Lee County District 3 Commissioner Ray Sandelli said. “Will it be the same? Will it look the same? Probably not. But hopefully every decision we make, not only includes structures and so on and so forth but will endear each other as a family. That comes from the heart and that’s really important.”

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Tom James
/
WGCU
Topping off ceremonies were held Friday at the Margaritaville Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach.

Fans of Fort Myers Beach have mixed feelings about the rebuilding of the beach town and the businesses that will follow. Some are ready for a change and a fresh start, while others don’t want big businesses to take away from the once quaint beach town.

"It's really upsetting that we lost a place that locals grew up in and it’s probably going to be like Miami Beach now with a ton of tourism,” Emily Krieger of North Fort Myers said. "It’s just not going to feel like home anymore.”

She has called Lee County her home for all her 21 years. She said Fort Myers Beach will never be the same.

"I found that the disaster completely shredded the ‘vibe’ of the surrounding areas. I believe that the reconstruction and Margaritaville will only bring income and further profits to the area,” Austin Mills said. He lived in Fort Myers for five years and graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies.

“With tourists comes profits. Of course, it will take time to rebuild, but once it is complete, it will be nicer than before, with the same history," he said. "I can’t say that the overall vibe of the beach will feel the same after this disaster. In comparison to the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, in Louisiana, they are still struggling to rebuild, and it will never be the same.”

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Tom James
/
WGCU
Topping off ceremonies were held Friday at the Margaritaville Island Resort on Fort Myers Beach.

More than 750,000 cubic yards of debris have been removed from Fort Myers Beach as of January 20. Community leaders said they feel that businesses, new or old, need to return to the island to bring back a sense of normalcy.

“Our community is hurting. But in order to recover, we need to stimulate our economy by getting our visitors back so they can spend their dollars in our local businesses,” Tamara Pigott, the executive director of Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, said. “Margaritaville and so many other businesses who have already reopened, along with those who will do so soon, are leading that charge.”

Jacki Liszak, the president of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of all the businesses that have reopened. As a business owner and resident, she said she understands how difficult it is for Fort Myers Beach to get back on its feet. The Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce has been publishing information on its website about open businesses on the island.

“We welcome the new businesses who are coming and the new opportunities that we're going to have on our island,” Liszak said.

This story was produced by Hayley Lemery, a student-journalist in Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students.