Sunseeker Resorts $420M project stalled


June 09, 2020

David Dorsey                                        Columnist USA TODAY NETWORK – FLA.

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Sunseeker Resorts $420M project stalled image

The Great Recession postponed or canceled many construction projects throughout Southwest Florida, but nothing like this.  Nothing like a $420-plus million resort spread over 22 acres, an expanse so big I’m wondering if it can be seen by the Space Force. A view from above looking at the lands touching Charlotte Harbor, just across from Punta Gorda and over the Peace River bridge, on the southern tip of Port Charlotte, would reveal at least a quarter-mile stretch of abandoned concrete.

The Sunseeker Resorts, owned by Allegiant Air, will be an empty shell instead of 783 hotel rooms, bars, restaurants, retail, spas and salons for quite some time. The airline, dented financially by the coronavirus pandemic, announced mid-March that it would withdraw project funding for at least 18 months.  Allegiant Air executives declined to be interviewed, letting their most recent quarterly earnings call speak for itself.

Charlotte County commissioner Stephen Deutsch, who voted to rezone the land with every other commissioner in 2018, said he’s confident the “Obviously no one has a crystal ball,” Deutsch said. “But I believe Allegiant has a serious commitment to completing that project. They have a definite interest in increasing their involvement with Charlotte County. I would like to think with things moving faster, we’ll see them back on track in less than that 18-month project.”

The six massive construction crane towers, which can be seen on the horizon from miles away, are supposed to be dismantled sometime before the end of June, prior to the heart of hurricane season.  Across the street from the construction site, two dancing figures of the Blues Brothers face the massive complex, just in front of Ice Cold Auto Repair, where owner Bob Berry sees the empty construction site every day.

“I thought it would have been great,” Berry said of the resort, which would bring about 500 new jobs to the area. The shutdown sent about 300 construction workers home. Many of them were bringing their cars to Berry’s shop. “We can’t see the water anymore,” Berry said. “Hopefully someone will take it over.”

Charlotte County director of economic development Dave Gammon said he’s optimistic the construction would resume sooner than the announced 18 months. The resort was supposed to be finished in late 2021.  “I think the best thing for us we have got going, is them being an airline,” Gammon said. “They know the data. Their hub is 10 minutes away from the site. That’s such a big draw to make it work.”

There’s also the possibility of a private investor getting involved with a cash influx.  “As far a partner, maybe they could find somebody,” Gammon said. “There could be something out there. We’re getting some calls from some people inquiring about it. The concept still flies.”  Gammon also said he was confident the site would not turn to the dreaded B-word: Blight.

The site was heading that way before construction commenced. An old newspaper warehouse, a dilapidated motel, a restaurant that had been closed for years and a miniature golf course in disrepair used to sit on that property.  Across the harbor, Fisherman’s Village general manager Patti Allen has a view of the cranes and the concrete. Her own complex has restaurants with outdoor seating and shopping and 47 vacation rental units.

“We have been in contact with Sunseeker and look forward to the day they can start to go vertical again,” she said. “I don’t look at it as competition at all. I very much look at it as an asset to our community. Any time you have planes coming into our community, they will always seek us out. If you go to Disney World, you don’t just go to Disney World. You might go to Sea World or one of the other parks. That’s very much how we view that Sunseeker project. We’re very, very sorry they had to pull back from the project.”