Oct. 20 and Oct. 25, 2021. Those two dates will be etched in the Longboat Key history books as two extraordinary, celebratory milestones. Together, those dates will stand as the final connecting links, bridging two eras of town history.
For the record, Oct. 20 was the day the Longboat Key Town Commission voted unanimously, 6-0, to give final approval to the development of the Residences at St. Regis Longboat Key Resort. And Monday, Oct. 25, marked the groundbreaking and official start of construction.
What made the latter all the more historic was the site: 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, 17.6 iconic beachfront acres, for 54 years the home of famed Colony Resort and later Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
The commission’s vote and the roar of the earthmover together marked the final page and close of the book on two of the most illustrious characters in Longboat history — the Colony and its longtime force and visionary owner, Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber.
But the vote and groundbreaking also marked the start of a new era and new volume of Longboat history, with equally illustrious and colorful characters — the ultra-luxury St. Regis Resort and Residences and its owner, Chuck Whittall.
It must be fate. Whittall, founder and owner of Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments, is a fitting successor to Klauber. He is Klauber-esque — in style and personality.
With his signature colorful sport jackets and shoes, like Klauber, he is a visionary, full of passion and seemingly boundless energy. He’s a dreamer and doer. He doesn’t give up. It took him eight-and-a-half years to get final approval for the St. Regis, fending off powerful opponents time after time. And he reaches for the stars.
Give him credit. As Katie Moulton Klauber, former president of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, said of Whittall Monday at the groundbreaking: “There are few souls on this earth who have the resolve needed to see this one through.”
Congratulations, Mr. Whittall. Congratulations to your team. Congratulations to the six Longboat commissioners who voted their approval. Congratulations to the former town commissioners, planning board members and town staff members who had a vote and a hand nudging this project to fruition.
It may be difficult for all of them to grasp the historical significance of what they did. But 10, 25, 50 years from now, assuming Whittall completes the development as envisioned, the St. Regis project is likely to rank among the three most significant turning points in town history — incorporation in 1955; Arvida Corp.’s development of the Longboat Key Club and Resort and Bay Isles in the 1970s; and now the St. Regis.
In the Colony’s heyday, its brand and reputation drew tennis buffs and others from around the world, fueling positive economic, social and philanthropic growth throughout the region. Surely, the St. Regis will continue that tradition.
At a time when strife and angst are widespread, the approval and start of construction are reasons to celebrate, be happy and feel a sense of optimism.
Thank you, Chuck Whittall. Thank you, town commissioners. Longboaters and Longboat Key needed this!