Resort blends casual class, gorgeous views

A Times Editorial
Published August 29, 2007

The first of several planned resorts on Clearwater Beach had its ribbon cutting Monday, and all one has to do is walk into the lobby to glimpse a new era dawning on that barrier island.

The first clue: the amazing view of the gulf from the lobby's west-facing glass wall. The Sandpearl Resort, unlike too many of the older hotels on Clearwater Beach, was built to embrace the sand and sea from the ground floor on up.

While people struggled to catch a view of the gulf from the lobby areas of the old Clearwater Beach Hotel, which occupied that land previously, the view is the thing at the Sandpearl. From the beachside pool to both of the hotel's featured restaurants to the private poolside cabanas to the grassy "event lawns," the beach and the water are fully visible. Bring a camera and make your own postcards.

The Sandpearl, the product of local uber-developer Mike Cheezem, fulfills his vision of a resort that has style and class, but with a casual attitude. He had said he wanted to build a resort where guests felt they didn't have to dress up to walk through the lobby. It may be a resort, but somehow there is the feel of a beachside bungalow to it, too.

He also had said he wanted the Sandpearl to build on the history of the Clearwater Beach Hotel, where so many locals went for the important events in their lives. They took their prom dates to the old hotel's restaurant, spent their honeymoons there, came back to celebrate their anniversaries. Many of those people were offended when they learned a new, uppity resort would take the place of the old hotel, and expected nothing would be preserved.

However, Cheezem kept his word, using historic photos, the old hotel's bar and its old dinner bell, among other items, to recall the hotel's past and introduce it to Sandpearl guests. Jeff Hunter, whose family owned the Clearwater Beach Hotel and retains a minority interest in the Sandpearl, was moved on opening day to exclaim, "I'm astounded. It's everything we could ever hope for."

Given the history and emotion attached to that site, it seems appropriate, somehow, that the Sandpearl was the first of the planned resorts to come online. Residents will want to check it out for themselves, whether they rent a room, visit the restaurants or just walk through the lobby for a look. The hotel's owners and managers say they understand the curiosity and welcome the community.

Other hotels will come, each with its own interpretation of a dream vacation spot for Clearwater Beach tourists, and each also offering some amenities such as restaurants or shops or parking that the local public can enjoy. With the arrival of the Sandpearl, the door is open to the change that has long been needed on Clearwater Beach.