Grand Opening of Margaritaville

by Richard Luthmann

Margaritaville, a new 254-room resort, has emerged on Fort Myers Beach, breathing life into the area with a coastal relaxed vibe, a nod to the late Jimmy Buffett. It’s a class act. It’s top-notch. It’s high-end. And it has raised questions. 

Local business owner who’s very involved in the community, John Gavin, watched its rise with awe, witnessing its transformation into reality. “I’ve been watching from the beginning. It’s incredible it’s coming to fruition,” Gavin said. 

Despite nearing completion, significant work remains, notably at the pool and beachside, promising a unique “cruise ship on land” experience. Chris Flagg, Chief Investment Officer of TPI Hospitality, the owners and developers of the resort, anticipates the resort will cater to the seasonal influx of visitors, contrasting sharply with the typical hotel bar and restaurant setup. 

“A hotel property with 254 rooms would have one bar and a couple of restaurants,” said Flagg. “We are built to accommodate the height of the season and 30,000 visitors,” he said. 

Expectations are high for Margaritaville to become a hub for winter vacations and spring breaks. Doe Homan, an Indiana resident and regular snowbird, sees potential for resurgence, particularly appealing to college students. 

“We needed this,” said Homan. “It’s going to be slow. But it will come back. My kids are in college, and this is the place to be.”  
No one can argue the commercial potential. But Margaritaville has a tricky question: Is the pricing out-of-reach for many locals? 

Jen Turbeville lived on Oakridge Avenue. She’s lost every-thing in last year’s storm. But she remains optimistic about what the resort will do for the community. 

“I’m so happy. It’s going to bring so much to the Island. It’s an important day for me,” she said. 

But are locals like Turbeville priced out. Is it a tourist trap? 

That’s not to discount the impact of the jobs and the financial activity on the town’s recovery from Hurricane Ian.  

The resort employs 400 people, many of whom had lost jobs in the hospitality industry after Ian in 2022. 

Tourism is the lifeblood of FMB, and every new dollar brought in from outside the area has a money multiplier effect. 

Mayor Dan Allers understands the economic reality. He said "I'm excited for the TPI community. It's been a long time coming. It's great to see some smiling faces back at work."

But Margaritaville is an expensive project with a high over-head and investors to answer to. It's unrealistic to expect the resort to offer substantial discounts. The pricing is well above the prevailing rates for food and beverage on FMB. Visitors and guests will pay a premium. 

And maybe tourists on vacation will be willing to pay. But the beachfront resort, which boasts a spa, six restaurants, and an expansive sunset terrace with Gulf views, is priced out of the market for many locals. For example, the menu and price list for the Coconut Telegraph coffee shop resemble that of a Star-bucks in Midtown Manhattan or the Loop in Chicago. Take a couple of friends for a cup of joe, and you’re looking at a $30 adventure. 

Tom Torgerson, co-CEO of TPI Hospitality, urged the public to visit the beachfront resort. He says they worked with residents and business owners to adapt their plans to the community. 

“We listened, we heard, they listened to us, they heard ... and we devised this resort that really, really fits,” he said. 

But does it? A couple of notable “bones” are thrown at local businesses. Chocolattés on San Carlos supplies the coffee. Island Girl Michelle Feldheimer, previously in Santini Plaza, will sell her line from kiosks around the resort property. 

Torgerson, also a Fort Myers Beach resident, wants to attract local dollars to the resort. 

“I can’t stress enough how important day visitors and evening visitors are to the resort. We’re built for that we’re built to be open to the public and easy parking,” he said. 

The resort has paid valet parking, free after 5 p.m. if a visitor spends $50 on food and drinks. (That will be easy and fun to do.) 

Torgerson said rooms will run from about $400 to $1,000, and pricing depends on the season. 

We know that post-Ian, we will never have the “old” Fort Myers Beach back. It will be some-thing new and different, it already is! But the big question for locals is, will that look more like Myrtle Beach or Palm Beach?  

For many, Margaritaville symbolizes a shift in Fort Myers Beach’s identity – from an accessible family destination to a more exclusive, elite spot. A high-end resort like Margaritaville places FMB on a Palm Beach trajectory ....... only time will tell.