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Shalimar Beach Resort became the first resort project to begin construction on Sanibel Island in years, with a groundbreaking ceremony held 18 months to the day after Hurricane Ian wrecked it. 

Owner Sean Niesel wished his grandmother a happy birthday and said he never could have done this without her. Nancy and Chet Niesel bought Shalimar in 2005. They contemplated razing it and turning it into a condominium complex until the Great Recession hit. By then, they said they were too in love with the resort to make many future changes. 

Hurricane Ian changed everything, and Sean Niesel said he wanted to continue his family legacy and the property’s legacy, too. 

Shalimar, now a vacant lot and a construction site for the next 18 months, first opened in 1959. 

“We were the first ones to get into planning,” Sean Niesel said.  “We were the first to go through the permitting process.” 

Being first did not come without challenges. 

“They had implemented all these new codes, and nobody had acted on them, just because there hasn’t been a new resort in so many years,” Niesel said of the city of Sanibel government. “With that, we’re kind of like the guinea pig to some degree.” 

Sanibel Mayor Richard Johnson attended the groundbreaking and predicted the time it took to get everything approved will not have been wasted. 

“This is a special place,” Johnson said. “Thank you for your comment about working together with the city. That’s exactly how we feel. We’ve come through challenge after challenge after challenge. We are well on our way to recovery. I can’t wait to see what this place looks like 18 months from today.” 

Being the “guinea pig” means Stevens Construction will be pioneering a construction project on the island. 

The resort will retain its 33 rooms but on a smaller footprint because of updated federal guidelines. The hotel building will have 21 units in it. 

“And then we will have 10, one-bedroom cottages and two, two-bedroom cottages,” Niesel said. 

The resort will have about 52,000 square feet, said Mark Stevens, CEO of Stevens Construction. He shared some other data, as well. His crews must drive 559 pre-cast pilons into the earth prior to construction. 

There will be 62,000 concrete blocks in use and about 50 workers on-site during peak construction, said Tom Porter, Stevens Construction superintendent. 

Getting supplies and manpower there, he said, would not be half the fun. 

“We’re going to do it strategically to beat the traffic,” Porter said. 

They will have to, especially with the concrete factor. 

“Concrete can only be in the truck for a certain amount of time before it becomes unusable,” Stevens said. “We really have to make sure that from the time it gets in the back of the truck to the time it gets here is the shortest duration possible. 

“We’ll test the waters and see what works best.” 

Joyce Owens did the architecture. The key was building to code but also making it aesthetically pleasing. 

“Fortunately, we have a lot of experience doing coastal work,” Owens said. “That helped. Architects love a good challenge, and we have a great client.” 

Sanibel Captiva Community Bank assisted with funding what Niesel said would amount to about a $14 million project. 

“I’m excited,” Niesel said. “I’m a little nervous. At the same time, it’s easier to get started. Really, I just want to start building. It took a lot of hard work, dedication and time to get to this point.” 

Stevens expected the resort to be finished in time for 2025-26 tourist season, with 2026 being the first full year of guests. 

Larry and Linda Engen of Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, said they would be first among those guests. They have been vacationing at Shalimar for the past 35 years, and during that time became friends with the Niesel family. 

“When we pull into the parking lot,” Larry Engen said, “We’re home.” 

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