More than a half year after being heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma, iconic Florida Keys resort Cheeca Lodge and Spa reopened Friday to visitors.
Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada had not hosted a vacationer since the Keys began a visitor evacuation several days before Irma passed through the island chain Sept. 10.
Although the core of the Category 4 storm made landfall on Cudjoe Key, some 60 miles to the west of the resort, storm surge devastated Cheeca’s lobby and landscaping and destroyed a 525-foot-long oceanside dock. Many of the 27-acre hotel’s 214 guestrooms suffered water intrusion.
Resort officials say that some $25 million is being expended to effect repairs, including some renovation projects beyond those necessary to offset storm impacts.
Cheeca officials were pleased the resort could open in time for Easter weekend.
“It allows us to bring our guests back in-season, and especially being a holiday weekend like this, it’s a really big weekend for us every year anyway,” said Bob LaCasse, Cheeca’s general manager.
LaCasse said the resort did not lay off pre-storm employees during the closure and staff assisted outside contractors with the property’s recovery. The tourism industry employs more than 50 percent of the Keys labor force.
“We were able to keep all our staff the entire time and during the time while we were closed the staff actually worked in every type of job you can imagine in the cleanup process,” he said. “I can tell you it really strengthens the team, so the entire staff is bonded. When you go through a crisis like this, you almost become family.”
With Cheeca’s reopening, 80 percent of the Florida Keys’ lodging properties are hosting visitors, according to Keys tourism officials. In Key West, more than 92 percent of accommodations are open.
Almost all attractions and restaurants have returned to operation.