New luxury suites at Island Inn under construction
Comfort, convenience and relaxation were three components incorporated into building the new Matthews Lodge, which will feature 12 Gulf View Luxury Suite accommodations early next year at Island Inn.
“These units will be a bit more on the luxury scale because of their size, the square footage. We are able to offer a lot more,” Island Inn Vice President of Operations and General Manager Chris Davison said about the 200 additional square footage. “People will really be able to utilize their accommodations however they would like.”
The new building is slated to open on Jan. 12 for guests. The Inn, as well as Traditions on the Beach Restaurant, Bar & Lounge will remain open throughout the construction process. The restaurant opens every day at 4 p.m. with full dinner starting at 5 p.m.
Davison said since they have previously remodeled two of Island Inn’s lodges and the cottages, the Matthews Lodge was the next on the list.
“This was kind of one of the last structures on the property that had not been addressed,” he said.
The current project, which broke ground on April 23, is replacing the old Matthew’s Lodge, which was built in 1961. It was a concrete rock building with a flat roof, which did not have the old Florida architecture feel.
“We looked at remodeling that building as it stood, but the way it was constructed left very little options for the remodeling. It was going to be millions of dollars spent on basically a nicer, but same product that we had. It didn’t make sense,” Davison said.
With the City of Sanibel making it more appealing for resort housing district properties to take advantage of remodeling, he said they decided to replace the old 12-unit building with a brand new 12-unit building on stilts offering parking underneath. He said the city, from the planning department to the mayor and councilmen, have been extremely helpful with the process making the project successful.
“Through this process of redesigning and rebuilding this building we have been able to redevelop this whole area, the front of the building, which is basically the main entrance when you pull in. Through that process we are gaining 29 parking spaces,” Davison said. “It’s basically the same sized parking lot, but it’s designed to be a parking lot. The efficiency of use and space is going to be great.”
One of the major improvements is the increase in square footage. The old 1961 building had rooms ranging from 300 to 350 square feet. The new building will consist of 600 square foot rooms.
“The old building, the way it was designed, was for traveling in 1961. The bathrooms were really small. The closets were pretty much nonexistent. There was no electrical outlets, one or two. No electrical in the porches,” he said.
The new building will have open floor plans offering guests with the opportunity to see straight out into the Gulf of Mexico as soon as they enter the room. The new space also offers a room partition that provides separation for a one bedroom, one bathroom with a living room offering guests with some privacy.
“It works good for families,” Davison said.
Some of the upgrades include plugs that are readily available due to the amount of electronic devices individuals have, as well as dual vanities in the bathroom. Other features include a large private screened balcony, living and dining room, full kitchen with stainless steel appliances and dishwasher, a personal wet bar, bedroom with king sized bed and a queen pullout sofa in the living room.
In addition, a new maintenance and housekeeping building is also being constructed at the same time.
“Much like our other facilities, our maintenance and housekeeping structures were outdated. We want to offer more services to our guests. In order to offer more services to your guests, we need more space for the folks that are providing the service for our guests,” Davison said. “We wanted to build them a nice new facility to work out of because they do a great job. It’s going to give them the facility that they deserve to do the job that they do.”
He said although they have no interest in growing larger, they do want to improve their level of service.
“We continue to offer a unique experience for folks who are coming to experience a real Sanibel, true Sanibel,” Davison said.
Island Inn is using the same core team they have worked with in the past for their other projects, which includes Benchmark General Contractors, BSSW Architects and Bean, Whitaker, Lutz and Kareh. He said it was really important to use local contractors because they are homegrown and live here, play here and work here.
“We definitely wanted to invest back into our community,” Davison said. “It’s a large reinvestment and it’s a way we can help.”
Throughout this project, Davison said he made it a point to keep all of his staff, a team of about 30.
“Being that we only have 49 units and 19 are out of service because of this project, that’s a reduction in workload. However, if you look at our TripAdvisor reviews, they constantly mention the staff. Breaking up the staff was not an option for us. We’ve budgeted that into the beginning of the project,” Davison said.
The oldest inn on Sanibel, Island Inn, opened in 1895 after the Matthew’s family moved to the island. The family ran the inn until the late 1950s due to them not having anyone to run the next phase.
“They decided to sell the inn, but they sold it to long time guests. The owners of the inn, now to this day, are long time guests to the inn, or second and third generation folks who have a long history and connection with the Island Inn. That really helps us keep our history and heritage in focus,” Davison said.
Over the years the inn grew over necessity with placing one building here, or there. He said the approach offered a spread out property with low density.
“There is 10 acres, but there is only 49 units,” Davison said. “Even though we stayed booked all year long, we get the comment that ‘this is great. I bet it’s different when it’s full.'”
His reply ‘we are full.'”
Unfortunately with the way the property was built out, it has been challenging due to the buildings not being sequenced, leaving some outdated and not in line with the building next door.
“Finding that cohesiveness, whether it is esthetically from the outside of the building, or through the operations of the building is something we have worked on since I got here,” Davison said.
He began working at Island Inn seven years ago.
Now the property entails seven cottages and three lodges.
Island Inn is at 3111 West Gulf Drive. For more information, call (239) 472-1561, or visit www.islandinnsanibel.com.