Punta Rassa, Sanibel Harbour Resort & Harbour Tower History
The Harbour Tower Condominium is located on Punta Rassa, a census designated place in Lee County, Florida, and within the grounds of the Sanibel Harbour Resort Development. The Harbour Tower overlooks and has over 100 yards of beach front on San Carlos Bay in which the Caloosahatchee River merges with the Gulf of Mexico. The 81 tower apartments all face the water and have great views of Sanibel Island and fantastic sunsets. The Resort's neighbors are the Punta Rassa Condominiums and the Sanibel Harbour Marina.
The Sanibel Harbour Marina, located between the Resort and Punta Rassa was the original landing site for the Sanibel Ferry. Until the bridge was completed in May, 1963, the ferry was the only way to access the Sanibel and Captiva islands. In fact, the name Sanibel Harbour originated with the Ferry service.
Punta Rassa was a thriving cattle shipping town in the 1800s. Florida cattle would be loaded at the port onto ships destined for Cuba. It was one of the home bases for the "King of the Cracker Cowboys" Jake Summerlin, who by the time he was 40 was one of the wealthiest of the Florida cattle barons. The town of Punta Rassa was lined with wooden buildings, including a hotel and several bars, which were frequented by the many merchants and cattle sellers.
Between 1835 and 1865, Punta Rassa was a site of many Indian skirmishes during the Seminole Indian Wars. As a result, Fort Dulany was built there in 1838, as an army supply depot. A hurricane destroyed Fort Dulany in October 1841, and the military was forced to look for a site less exposed to storms from the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the search, Fort Harvie was built on the grounds that now comprise downtown Fort Myers. Fort Dulany was rebuilt and later used again during the Civil War when Punta Rassa again became a thriving southwest Florida port.
At the end of the Civil War, the area was abandoned. In 1866, the International Ocean Cable Company, of Newark, New Jersey (later becoming merged into Western Union), took over the fort and port of Punta Rassa and made it the southernmost point of its cabling system. The company also controlled the shipping rights, pens and the dock. For the use of these facilities, the company usually charged 15 cents a head of cattle. Punta Rassa was the telegraph office that first learned of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Cuba in 1898.
A railroad line was built towards Punta Rassa in the early 1920s by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad as part of an effort by Seaboard president S. Davies Warfield to reestablish a deepwater port at Punta Rassa. The 8-mile line branched off the Seaboard's main line, which ran along the west bank of the Ten Mile Canal, in South Fort Myers near where Six Mile Cypress Parkway crosses the canal. It ran through where Lakes Park currently sits, and then roughly paralleled what is now Summerlin Road, terminating just east of Punta Rassa at Truckland. Due to their financial state, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad discontinued all operations in the Fort Myers area in 1952. Despite never fully reaching Punta Rassa, the abandoned line is still referred to as Seaboard’s Punta Rassa Branch. An FPL transmission line currently sits on a portion of the Punta Rassa Branch's former right of way just south of Summerlin Road.
The area figured prominently in the 1984 historical novel A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith.
The original developers of the Sanibel Harbour Resort were John Annenia and Ed Cassavel. They had already completed a number of projects on Sanibel Island. Among these developments were the Sanibel Hilton, Bougainvillea, Chelsea Place and Janthina. Both developers had grown up in the shadow of Forest Hills, New York. Both were avid tennis players, and both conceived of Sanibel Harbour as a tennis resort.
The Harbour Tower was part of the Sanibel Harbour development that included a hotel and tennis/spa complex and two condominium towers. The first structure completed in the development was the tennis/spa complex. Construction of this complex began in the fall of 1983. At that same time, preconstruction sales of the condominium units were begun by Priscilla Murphy Realty. Representing PMR and working in a trailer located on the site of what is now Sanibel Harbour was Marsha Asp.
The second building completed in the Sanibel Harbour development was the Harbour Tower. It was finished in January 1985. The South Tower followed a year later. The hotel, the last building in the development, was completed in 1989. For a period of time the Harbour Tower pool was the primary pool on site. It served as the Resort's pool until that structure, the last of the original development plan, was completed.
The tennis complex was conceived as a teaching tennis center. To further that goal, the developers hired a professional tennis player as the Center's touring pro. That pro was Jimmy Connors. He was given a five-year contract which included Harbour Tower unit #114 as part of his compensation. Jimmy Connors was to generate interest in the Resort by being the marquee attraction at tennis events held on site. What is now known as the Courtside Restaurant was formerly called Jimmy's. The original name of the stadium was Jimmy Connors' Instructional Tennis Center.
The Center was the site of a number of prestigious tennis tournaments. In 1985 and 1986 Paine Webber sponsored its tennis classic at the Resort. The finals of both events were played by Ivan Lendel and Jimmy Connors. In both finals Ivan Lendel was the victor. Davis Cup matches were played at the resort in 1989 and 1992. Attendees at the matches parked their cars on what is now the site of the Sanibel Factory Outlet Shops on McGregor Boulevard. Buses provided transportation from the parking lot to Sanibel Harbour.
Sales of the Resorts condominium units were so successful during this period that the developer no longer needed Jimmy Connors to generate buyer interest. When Connors' contract expired, it was not renewed.
Most of the preconstruction purchasers put their units in the Resort rental program. This was part of the original concept of the Resort. In fact, ninety percent of the original purchasers placed their units in the Resort rental program. Today that figure is around 50%. Unit owners were kept involved throughout the construction period . At the topping-off of the hotel, owners were invited to sign an iron girder which was used in construction. All of the then owners were invited to the Resorts' grand opening – a black tie event.
The developers selected the Sonesta Company to manage the Resort. Sonesta management continued until the mid' 90's. At that time the developers sold their interest in the resort to Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. Shortly thereafter, Liberty, itself, assumed management of the Resort.
Columbia Sussex, a private hotel company based in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, purchased the hotel from Liberty Mutual in 2007 and aligned themselves with Marriott Hotels. Marriott subsequently severed all business relationships with the two adjacent (Bay and Harbour) condominium towers, and currently markets the hotel and spa as the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa.
The location of Sanibel Harbour and its placement on the site give the Resort an aura of privacy and exclusivity. The land surrounding the Resort has been designated as environmentally sensitive, which makes further construction subject to much review.
The Sanibel Harbour Tower Condominium Association was formed and took control from the Developers in 1986. The Board wrestled with numerous management and accounting problems and methods for several years then made the decision to bring all of the Association finances and management in-house, hiring Garry Nees as Manager in 1989.
Angelo Celmo, who was the Sanibel Harbour Resort hotel manager, opted to leave the hotel and establish a real estate business (Resort Harbour Properties) focused upon the Sanibel Harbour Resort, Punta Rassa and Sanibel. He subsequently added a vacation rental business and hired Kelly Dickens, also an Executive Manager at the Sanibel Harbour Resort, to run the rental business. When Marriott took over the hotel management and severed the hotel relationship with the condo towers Resort Harbour Properties stepped in to service the condominium rentals.
Sources: Plagiarized, compiled and edited by Don Hallenbeck based upon superficial research and the input of Wikipedia, Sue Constance, Garry Nees, Angelo Celmo, Kelly Dickens and Juan Martini. Corrections and additions gratefully accepted.