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Margaritaville construction on Fort Myers Beach

The moment was supposed to belong to the forthcoming Margaritaville Resort. Instead, the resort leaders ceded the spotlight, on a cloudy, Fort Myers Beach morning, to their neighboring business owners.

Margaritaville did indeed celebrate the construction topping off milestone Friday morning at 1192 Estero Blvd. But the photo opportunity featured not just the resort managers, but more than a dozen beach business owners who’ve returned to work despite the devastation of Hurricane Ian.

Places like Tunaskin Aquatic Apparel have set up temporary, pop-up stores while waiting for their original brick-and-mortar locations to be renovated. Shutdown restaurants like La Ola Surfside Restaurant are finding new ways to operate. La Ola runs a food truck in the remains of Times Square.

“I can’t even begin to tell you the stories of resilience we have here,” said Jacki Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. She then went about reading from a list of businesses that have reopened since the Sept. 28 Category 4 storm, which decimated Estero Island.

There were 62 businesses on her list, plus two more, Rude Shrimp and Fort Myers Beach Inn, that were added to it.

“I’m confident that our island will rebuild,” she said.

Only after Liszak finished did the microphone go to Robert Kisabeth, the chief operating officer of TPI Hospitality, Margaritaville’s ownership entity.

“DeAngelis Diamond has doubled down on their construction,” Kisabeth said. To the media members who have kept asking him on an opening date, he responded at the podium: “I’m here to tell you, profoundly, we don’t know.”

Topping off ceremony at Margaritaville Resort on Fort Myers Beach

Although the 254-room hotel’s foundation and concrete walls weathered the storm quite well, the company lost all of the interior progress to the storm, including copper wiring and plumbing. All of that work had to be removed and restarted, setting the project back by about three months. Two semitrailers full of electrical components also were washed out. However, construction supplies for the bulk of the rest of the project were stored on the mainland and survived the storm intact.

Away from the podium, Kisabeth said the resort is hoping to open by Sept. 28, the anniversary of Ian. He couldn’t commit to that date because of so many unknowns between now and then.

“The roof is in now,” Kisabeth said. “Everything is water tight.”

David Cesario spent 36 years working for the Marriott brand of hotels. Now, he’s the vice president of TPI and the opening general manager for Margaritaville.

“We wanted to do an event to celebrate the topping off,” Cesario said. “But we decided, let’s use the topping off as a larger event for the community. The surrounding area is equally important.”

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