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Gulf & Main Magazine

Fort Myers Has Its Riverfront Hotel After Four Decades

Two years in the works, four decades in the making, the Luminary Hotel opened its doors on Sept. 23, 2020. The hotel, so named to honor the historic group of icons that inspired its existence, sits in the heart of Downtown Fort Myers and sits on the riverfront, designed to be a hub for locals and travelers alike to "become part of a storyline that's always being written."

"City leaders in Fort Myers, Florida took a unique and distinctive approach to bringing a new hotel to their downtown river district," said the city of Fort Myers public information officer Stephanie Schaffer. "After a series of failed attempts coupled with a growing population and demand for lodging, city officials decided to take the bold step of connecting five separate projects into one anchor development through a P3 partnership, ultimately teaming up with Mainsail Development to bring the Luminary Hotel to the city’s waterfront."

The city had been working for more than four decades to bring a riverfront hotel into the downtown district of Fort Myers. With the economic downturn in the mid-2000s, many buildings in the downtown area were vacant, Schaffer said.

Despite the obvious uncertainty, the pandemic wasn’t enough to delay the Luminary from opening when it was ready, although the strategy changed slightly. With four dining options on-site—a diner, a rooftop bar, a signature restaurant, and a free-standing restaurant—the hotel decided to stagger the openings. 

"The staggering in a way helped us open with less staffing than if we opened everything at the same time," said general manager Bob Megazzini. "It made us more efficient in how we opened. Not knowing what the laws were going to be when we opened, I’m happy to say we haven’t had to let any team members go as a result of that uncertainty. Our entire team is working 40 hours a week which has been nice."

The hotel draws its inspiration from the "quirky characters" who came before it—the luminaries who built Fort Myers, such as Captain Francis A. Hendry and Alice McCann, as well as Tootie McGregor, who was a pioneer in planting palm trees around the city, leading to its nickname, the "City of Palms."

The hotel's lobby bar, coffee shop, and diner is named for Dr. Ella Mae Piper, one of the founding mothers of Fort Myers, who, in the 1920s was one of a very few African American women to have attended and graduated college. She went on to become a successful businesswoman and philanthropist in Fort Myers. The diner is open for early birds and night owls alike, offering traditional American diner favorites, and was the first of the four restaurants to open its doors to the public.

"It’s like an old school diner," Megazzini said. "We're trying to keep the prices low and provide quick, efficient service. It's popular for lunch for business people in the city. They can come in, eat, hit the road after having a good meal, and get back to work."

Three weeks later in October, the Beacon Social Drinkery debuted. The rooftop bar offers craft cocktails, fine wines, microbrews, and champagnes, alongside a menu of small plate options.

"We have some great handcrafted cocktails at our rooftop bar," Megazzini said. "Some of them are fruity, some of them are tropical. The bartenders try to make it fun. It’s a cool atmosphere up there. We intended it to be all about enjoying a cocktail and conversation while you’re taking in all the great views of the Caloosahatchee River."

The Silver King Ocean Brasserie is the hotel's signature restaurant, named for the tarpon gamefish that is prevalent in the waters of Fort Myers, opened in the middle of November. 

"We’re getting rave reviews on all our seafood dishes," Megazzini said of the Silver King's public reception. "We have a great scallop dish and a great salmon dish." The restaurant offers high-end steak dinners, as well.

The Oxbow Bar and Grill, the hotel's free-standing restaurant, will open in March. It will offer American food, such as peel-and-eat shrimp, oysters on the half shell, a fried fish sandwich, and steaks. It will be one of the only restaurants in Fort Myers that is on the water and the only one downtown. The water, Megazzini said, is 12 feet from the back of the building.

So far, the restaurants have seen much success, but the pandemic may have shortened the potential for big results, as people are still hesitant to go out to eat while social distancing efforts are in effect. The management group has taken tables out of service to keep people six feet apart, to protect the guests that come in, and to protect the staff that works at the hotel. Ultimately, Megazzini said, they want to keep everyone safe.

The hotel has 243 guest rooms, including 24 suites. It is currently running 50 to 60 percent occupancy for the week and busier on weekends. The slowness during the week, Megazzini said, is due to limitations on business travel during the pandemic; however, expectations are being met "despite what's going on in the world."

"Feedback has been great," he continued. "People love the product and service we've been providing. We're still in our infancy, but the outlook is very bright."

The city already owned and operated the Harborside Event Center, with nine meeting rooms and 42,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. The facility, which was built in was due for a major remodel, Schaffer said, and Megazzini added the land the hotel sits on now was "very tired" at the time. Mainsail Development submitted a proposal for refurbishing the event center façade and combining it with its hotel and parking garage proposal, also including the existing City Pier building, another city-owned property at the base of Hendry Street, also used as a meeting venue. 

Through evaluating the space and plans, Mainsail also suggested the addition of an amphitheater to complete the overall lodging and entertainment offerings. The development package totaled $91 million.

"The project came about through a massive collaboration between the city, the county, an equity partner, and a myriad of others," Schaffer said. "The long-awaited transformation delivered a beautifully branded upscale lifestyle hotel, combined with a fully renovated convention center. In addition, there is more to come, including an amphitheater which will completely reimagine Centennial Park, along with a fresh new concept for the Pier Building."

"We’re happy to be a part of the community and have been welcomed by the community in open arms," Megazzini said. "We want to give back to the community on all levels—providing service, food, and fun at all levels, but also getting involved with charities, such as the Piper Foundation and Harry Chapin Food Bank."