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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 7 months ago

Resort seeking allegiance from airline passengers

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By spreading its wings with its Sunseeker Resorts brand, Allegiant hopes to capture vacationers flying in to Punta Gorda for their entire vacation.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

When Matt Beelner, vice president of sales and resort development of Sunseeker Resorts, speaks to groups and individuals about the company’s planned first project in Port Charlotte, two of the most frequent questions he hears is, “Why is Allegiant Airlines (behind Sunseeker) getting into resort development?” and “Why Charlotte Harbor?”

The answer to the second question goes a long way toward addressing the first.

The answer to No. 2? Las Vegas-based Allegiant captures 5% of the nation’s air travelers, and Sunseeker’s proximity to one of its busiest airport destinations — Punta Gorda Airport in Charlotte County — provides the opportunity to capture a greater share of their vacation dollars.

Infrastructure for Sunseeker Resorts, the company's debut resort project, is under development on 22 acres on the Peace River at Bayshore Boulevard near U.S. 41, about 10 minutes from Punta Gorda Airport — where Allegiant is the exclusive commercial airline. With routes from 44 airports to Punta Gorda, Beelner says Allegiant has a captive audience from the time travelers log onto its website to explore flights and destinations to the time they land in Southwest Florida.

“Customers will purchase their tickets for airfare based on what’s cheapest,” Beelner told an audience of the Real Estate Investment Society in Fort Myers in October. “They’ll suffer a little to get to their destinations and spend their money on the experiences there. So, the question becomes how can we capture more of that travel dollar? Through the airline we know who is going where, when they are going, and at what frequency. We know where they are dispersing to once they do land, so we thought it made a lot of sense to go into the business of developing the kind of resorts they are going to anyway.”

Restaurants and bars along the Sunseeker boardwalk will be available to the public as well as resort guests. Courtesy Sunseeker Resorts

To capitalize on that opportunity, the company cobbled together 15 parcels on Charlotte Harbor, investing nearly $30 million. That is part of what Beelner says is a planned $450 million investment into the first phase of the multiphase project, which includes a seawall, retaining walls, boardwalk and basic infrastructure for the entire resort.

Sunseeker has also invested in an experienced executive team. Like Beelner, Sunseeker President and COO Micah Richins and Vice President of Food and Beverage Jason Shkorupa were recruited from key leadership positions at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

With the project fully permitted, vertical construction is expected to begin in 2019 with occupancy starting in fall 2020.

Phase 1 will include a 500-plus-room luxury hotel and two towers comprising 180 condos. Whether those condos will be held by Sunseeker or sold to individual buyers remains undetermined. Amenities will include two pools, two marinas and a boardwalk, where the first of a mix of 17 bars, restaurants and cafes at build-out will be located. Sunseeker has also recently purchased nearby Kingsway Country Club, which will be upgraded to offer guests a golf and country club option.

Sunseeker Resort will built on 22 acres in Charlotte Harbor and will incorporate a redeveloped current Marina. Courtesy Sunseeker Resorts

“When we did an analysis of Sarasota down to Naples within close proximity to the coast, what we found is there are not a lot of products over 300 rooms, and of the product that does exist, very little was built recently,” says Beelner. “We saw an opportunity for what we’re going to offer and to come in with a product that doesn’t exist here. With Allegiant already having a brand presence here, we felt we could leverage that.”

Beelner says 65% of all Allegiant’s routes takeoff or land in Florida. Little competition for the travelers' dollar in the area between Sarasota and Naples, combined with Allegiant’s air travel dominance there, made Port Charlotte a logical choice.

“We hear ‘Why Port Charlotte?’ a lot,” says Beelner. “It doesn’t have much brand value for the folks who do know it. It has had some economic challenges and not a lot of recent development. The flip side of that, though, is show me anywhere we can get 22 acres of waterfront property for less than $30 million?”

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