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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 25, 2016 2 years ago

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Even businesses with successful histories can use upgrades. A $3.5 million project is the way there at one storied resort.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

The Gasparilla Inn & Club already had a lot of things going for it — a hundred-year history, an idyllic island location in Boca Grande and a reputation as a service-oriented, luxury lodging option.

With the addition of its new Sharp House, it looks to become an even more appealing place for multigenerational family vacations and couples' getaways.

Named in honor of the inn's late former owner, Bayard Sharp, the six houses sit just steps from the inn on a piece of property Sharp always wanted to build on. (A villa that had been on site was torn down to make room for the houses.) Ranging from 2,300 to 3,850 square feet, the newly constructed dwellings have either three or four bedrooms along with bathrooms for each bedroom, a full kitchen, washers and dryers and two living spaces in most cases.

The first Sharp House opened in December 2014, and the other five were rolled out periodically after that. An improved national economy contributed to the inn's decision to undertake the more than $3.5 million project. Another factor: The 131 rooms in its main building and cottages typically sell out quickly during the holidays and high season.

“We felt that our infrastructure could handle another 22 rooms and thought it was a good time to make the move,” says Jon Reecher, general manager of the inn.

While the houses provide guests with more room to spread out, they retain plenty of the Old Florida charm associated with the inn. There's a yellow paint job with white trim, just like the main inn building, and there are porches to enjoy the island breeze. Their upscale, coastal decor features soothing beachy shades like blue and green, and guests have full access to all of the inn's amenities, including a choice of meal-plan options.

“They're very family friendly,” says Reecher. “And they'd be great with four couples. In October and November, we've had four couples rent them for golf getaways.”

The inn has marketed the new houses through its annual magazine, social media and other PR efforts, and Reecher says bookings have been brisk during the holidays and spring social season. Rates for the four-bedroom houses run as high as $2,310 a night at those times. (Rates drop to about $1,800 a night for the four-bedroom houses and $1,340 to $1,530 a night for the three-bedroom ones during the fall, late spring, and early summer.) People have been renting them anywhere from three days to three weeks.

“We have no problem selling them this time of year,” he says. “And we have lots of room options for guests to choose from.”

There are some illustrious names among the inn's former guests, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Katharine Hepburn, and George H.W. Bush's family. They were drawn to Gasparilla Island (located partially in Charlotte County and partially in Lee County) and its village of Boca Grande for many of the same reasons folks are today. And the inn's rich
history is one thing that draws both guests and curious day-trippers to the site.

Reecher and his staff work hard to balance the inn's past with the needs of today's travelers. So while old-school activities like bingo still prove popular, the property also offers things such as a modern spa and fitness center to keep up with the times, and has updated its marina and golf course in recent years.

“I believe guests come to this inn because it is 100 years old, and they have a certain expectation of service, food quality and room product,” says Reecher. “We do everything we can to keep that up to standards. I think our biggest challenge is to keep up with the expectations of our guests, and I think we do a pretty good job with that.”

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