Luxury resort checks in at the beach

By MIKE DONILA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 28, 2007

Tampa Bay's first new luxury resort in 25 years, the Sandpearl Resort, officially opened Monday, providing the county with desperately needed hotel rooms and, perhaps, reshaping Clearwater Beach.

"This is the future," said Clearwater Vice Mayor John Doran, one of several speakers who attended the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the 253-room resort.

The invitation-only event brought out more than 200 people, mostly those who played a role in the $100-million resort's development, including builders, artists, operators, local leaders and family members.

The hotel is expected to be a major draw and a place where "people can connect with the past," said Mike Cheezem, the head of St. Petersburg-based JMC Communities, which built the resort.

It replaces the historic Clearwater Beach Hotel, a mainstay along Mandalay Avenue on the north end of the beach. It's also one of three luxury resorts planned to open in the next couple of years, replacing the old mom-and-pop hotels along the beach.

"It exceeds my expectations. I'm astounded," said the hotel's first guest, Jeff Hunter, whose family owned the Clearwater Beach Hotel. "It's everything we could ever hope for."