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Florida Meeting Guide: Lee County

Courtesy Lee County VCB

Porcelain-blue skies and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico color the appeal of Lee County, home to Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island.

Direct flights from Southwest Florida International Airport to Atlanta, Chicago and New York make it easy for travelers from the Northeast and Midwest, two of Lee County’s biggest markets, to get there.

Although many of its hotels and resorts handle conferences, Lee County does not have a full-fledged convention center. There is a proposal to expand and upgrade Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers, now used mainly for local events, but the implementation of the plan is three to five years away, according to Pamela Johnson, director of sales for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau.

An interesting mix of resorts, where continuous improvement is the watchword, draws meetings to the area. Between 2010 and 2012, $101.6 million was invested in tourism-related upgrades.

On Sanibel Island, for example, 114-room Casa Ybel Resort recently underwent room and pool deck upgrades that topped $1 million. The 23-acre beachfront resort can best handle meetings for 10 to 70 guests.

The Island Inn has added free Wi-Fi, new beds and flat-screen televisions. Last year, the inn spent $600,000 on guest rooms as well as landscaping. On 550 feet of beachfront, the inn caters to corporate retreats for up to 100 guests.

‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort on Captiva Island is a recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places. Its Old Captiva House, built as a one-room school, is now a restaurant available for banquets.

On Fort Myers Beach, DiamondHead Beach Resort in 2011 completed a $250,000 redo of its 124 guest rooms. This year, the property renovated its restaurants. The resort’s 8,000 square feet of meeting space includes a ballroom and an outdoor terrace with gulf views.

After making $747,000 in renovations last year, the 235-room Pink Shell Beach Resort and Spa will undergo another $1.7 million in renovations. Pink Shell has a 4,000-square-foot grand ballroom and a 2,300-square-foot ballroom.

The 454-room Hyatt Coconut Point Resort and Spa, with 73,000 square feet of meeting space, is  among the county’s largest properties.

Another sizable resort, the 278-room Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort and Spa in Fort Myers, is spending $5 million to update guest rooms, the lobby and the Tarpon House restaurant. It has about 45,000 square feet of meeting space.

Despite development, Lee County’s natural beauty is being protected, particularly on Sanibel and Captiva islands.

“We offer a variety of nature experiences,” Johnson said. “Boating, shelling, enjoying the beach, watching wildlife, kayaking, bicycling – it’s all here.”

Even an attraction like the Edison and Ford Winter Estates emphasizes Florida’s beauty, with its bayfront setting, gardens and lawns, where groups can gather for dinners and receptions.