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Storied property moves forward on multimillion-dollar project

A big challenge at the revamped Shangri-La Springs? Finding staff to meet the demand.

Stefania Pifferi.  Lee Bellamy has been general manager of Shangri-La Springs since 2017.
Stefania Pifferi. Lee Bellamy has been general manager of Shangri-La Springs since 2017.
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A presence in Bonita Springs since 1921, Shangri-La Springs has a long history as a resort, spa and wellness-focused site.

Its latest rebirth is now moving ahead full steam, with a new restaurant, Harvest & Wisdom, joining its organic spa and event space, plus new hotel rooms coming soon. “This is something so unique and so different from anything I’ve done in the past,” says Lee Bellamy, who has been the general manager of the site since 2017. “We’re trying to keep as much of the history of the resort the same but all the while making the necessary upgrades.”

In addition to upgrades, officials say the hospitality industry’s No. 1 obstacle to growth — lack of employees — is acute at Shangri-La Springs. To bring the new hotel rooms online, for one, Shangri-La Springs will need to increase its current staff of about 50 full-and part-time employees. “We’re actively looking now, but it’s the most difficult [hiring environment] that I have ever seen in my career,” says Bellamy, who previously worked for the Hilton corporation. “In fact, the only reason we’re just doing lunch five days a week is that we don’t have the staff to do anything more.”

Stefania Pifferi.  Renovations are underway at the Shangri-La Springs.
Stefania Pifferi.  Renovations are underway at the Shangri-La Springs.

Maintaining the past while improving for the future is also no easy task. Adding a sprinkler system to the almost 100-year-old property, for example, took one-and-a-half years instead of the more-typical six months. New plumbing and fiberoptic cabling are also being installed to give future hotel guests modern conveniences.

And then there’s the pool, a much-loved historic feature of the site. “It’s out of code and would have to be completely remodeled,” Bellamy says. “It would be cheaper to build another pool, which we will probably do.” (It would then be determined whether to fill the old pool in or keep it as a water feature.)

Bellamy says these challenges are worth weathering to create the desired end result at Shangri-La Springs: a place where visitors can connect with nature (the on-site springs are the namesake for the city of Bonita Springs), eat healthy meals built around ingredients grown in the property’s five-acre organic garden, and relax and rejuvenate their mind and body with a meditation class or Fountain of Youth Facial.

The new hotel rooms will let guests stretch out their visit. Six rooms in the property’s Villa Ascona building will open before the end of 2019, followed by four guest rooms on the first floor of the main building. The second-floor rooms still need more renovation work and will be available in early 2021. All rooms will have organic mattresses, organic bedding and pillows and eco-friendly toiletries. “We’re being as green and organic as possible,” Bellamy says.

'Not a day goes by that I don’t have someone who stops by and comments on everything the property offers and how beautiful it is.’ Lee Bellamy, Shangri-La Springs

Before 86-seat Harvest & Wisdom opened in July 2019, the 8.5-acre property — home to more than 40 species of trees and a stretch of Oak Creek — got about 20% of its business from the spa and 80% from weddings and special events. “We get a tremendous amount of event inquiries,” Bellamy says. In October 2019 alone, Shangri-La Springs will host seven weddings, four corporate events and a handful of smaller events, such as baby showers.

It helps that local residents have an affinity for the venerable site, which also hosts community events like wine dinners, art shows and guided tours. “The overall response has been fantastic,” Bellamy says. “Not a day goes by that I don’t have someone who stops by and comments on everything the property offers and how beautiful it is.”

The Heitman family originally built Shangri-La Springs as a hotel in 1921. It’s had a slew of owners over the years who operated the site as some kind of health resort and has been owned since 1998 by the Naples-based Lama Hana Land Trust, which includes computer scientist and conservationist Addison Fischer. That ownership drives the current rebirth, which has been slowed by the recession and hurricanes, in addition to the general difficulties of bringing a site from past to present.

Bellamy declines to put a price tag on the renovations but says it’s a multimillion-dollar effort. The project is aided by other revitalization activity going on in Bonita Springs, like the city’s downtown improvements project that brought new streetscaping and utility upgrades and the new Bonita Springs Public Library. A lot of potential Shangri-La Springs customers could also be moving in nearby when the new Mosaic @ Oak Creek apartments are finished.

“It definitely benefits us,” Bellamy says. “Businesses are wanting to be a part of the downtown Bonita area. We’re seeing an increased amount of traffic for sure.”


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