(Pictured) The brilliant white sands of Siesta Beach in Siesta Key, was voted best beach in the U.S.
Four of the "Top 25 Beaches in the United States," including No. 1 and No. 2, are on Florida's West Coast, according to TripAdvisor's 2015 Travelers Choice Awards. Siesta Beach on Siesta Key, in the Sarasota area, led the pack this year. Next was St. Pete Beach, last year's No. 1 and a perennial favorite in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area. Clearwater Beach came in at No. 8, and Ft. Myers Beach took the 18th spot.
Down in Southwest Florida, the new owners of the 474-room Naples Grand Beach Resort have completed an $18-million renovation of its rooms, 83,000 square feet of meeting space, and dining areas. The 726-room Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa is closed through July for an expansion that will add 85 rooms (for 810 total) and more than 50 percent more meeting space (for 100,000 square feet total). In August, it will reopen as the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.
In Fort Myers, work has begun on a new 225-room Sheraton. It will be connected to the Harborside Events Center, which will begin its own expansion project next year. That will include a new roof, windows, and doors; a kitchen remodel; a new sound and lighting system; and interior upgrades. Both projects are scheduled for completion in early to middle 2017. On Sanibel Island, the 400-room Sundial Beach Resort has wrapped up a multimillion-dollar room renovation as well as added a new fitness center, and six HydroGrid tennis courts. In Bonita Springs, the 454-room Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa is overhauling its 14,000-square-foot ballroom and pre-function area. The 263-room Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village has added four new breakout rooms overlooking the marina, as well as increasing its Internet bandwidth.
The new Westin Sarasota is scheduled to open in August 2016 in the heart of the city's arts district. It will feature 15,000 square feet of meeting facilities as well as a rooftop pool.
MEET - The Coliseum, St. Petersburg
Built in 1924 for ballroom dancing and featuring an oak dance floor, the city-owned Coliseum is in the heart of downtown. It can handle 2,000 for a trade show, concert, or dance; 1,600 for a banquet; or 600-800 for a banquet with a dance floor.
DINE - Naples
In February, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse aired a segment of Emeril's Florida, in which he visited three Naples restaurants: Osteria Tulia, Mereday's Fine Dining, and Pincher's Crab Shack.
PLAY - Saddlebrook Resort
The resort's extensive teambuilding facilities include a five-acre Executive Challenge ropes course with both high and low ropes initiatives, set within a secluded tract of woods. Planners can work with well-known scientist, and teambuilding leader, Dr. Nick Hall, as well as Saddlebrook's staff professionals to design activities matching the meeting theme and goals.
ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Tampa Convention Center (600,000 sf); Sarasota Bradenton Convention Center (90,000 sf exhibit floor); Ft. Myers: Harborside Events Center (42,000 sf); Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center (69,000 sf)
Fort Myers: 11 percent
Tampa: 12 percent
St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 12 percent
Naples/Marco Island/Everglades: 10 percent
Pinnacle Awards Go To:
• Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB
• Sarasota CVB
• Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater
• Boca Raton Resort - Waldorf Astoria Collection
• Tradewinds Island Grand Resort, St. Pete Beach
• Saddlebrook Resort, Wesley Chapel (Tampa)
• Loews Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach
• Longboat Key Club & Resort, Longboat Key
• Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club and Spa
• The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
• The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
• Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
New properties are the news in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area. Named one of Condé Nast Traveler's best new hotels, the Mediterranean-themed, 72-room Hotel Zamora is a luxury boutique property and the first on St. Pete Beach in 20 years. It has more than 9,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Up next February is the 230-room Opal Sands Resort, Clearwater Beach, which will feature 25,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space. Like the luxury property's guest rooms, all of it has views of the Gulf of Mexico. And in 2017, a 450-room Wyndham Grand Resort Clearwater Beach will open with nearly 24,000 square feet of event space, making it one of the largest banquet and meetings facilities in the area, the company says.
In nearby Tampa, the 780-acre, 540-room Saddlebrook Resort just refreshed its landscaping, entrances, balconies, and meeting facility pre-function spaces. It has 95,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space. This month Saddlebrook finished re-wiring with fiberoptic Internet service, which has the potential to support much more bandwidth than standard cable. The 442-room Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay has finished a $20-million renovation, including public-space refurbishments. Last year, the 130-room Aloft Tampa Downtown opened in the historic Mercantile Bank building with a 685-square-foot meeting room, and the 130-room Le Méridien Tampa opened in the landmark Federal Courthouse with an outdoor pool and more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space.
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This article appears in the June 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.