by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
The sale of a business center on Rabbit Road broke a Sanibel commercial real estate record last month. Realtor Evan duPont facilitated the $6-million transaction, the largest of its kind in nearly two decades on the island.
“I take great pride in stewarding a trade of this magnitude at this specific time in the island’s history,” said duPont of Berkshire Hathaway. “The buyer and seller possess similar values and appreciation of the island, as well as a bullish outlook on the island’s future as we move down the road to recovery.”
Hurricane Ian struck the island on Sept. 28, 2022 as a powerful category four storm with up to 15-feet of storm surge and 155 mph winds. While Ian destroyed homes and businesses island wide, the center on the corner of Rabbit and Sanibel-Captiva roads was spared from major damage.
“Pre-Hurricane Ian we never considered selling the whole center,” said Sean Niesel, whose family had owned the property since 1998. “After the hurricane, with the amount of damage and losses we and many suffered, it made us rearrange some of our priorities.”
The Niesels own the iconic Shalimar Resort on West Gulf Drive and he said the sale of the center will allow them to focus on rebuilding the resort and their Fort Myers Beach properties.
Niesel said the Rabbit Road center thrives on a good operating restaurant and he believes that is exactly what the new owner, Tim McGowan, can provide with his family’s Missouri-based Tex-Mex restaurant Rosalita’s Cantina.
“I had always considered the center to be a great mid-island location for retail and commercial purposes,” McGowan said. He had worked with duPont last year on the purchase of The Sandbar restaurant, also previously owned by the Niesels.
“We kept dialog open and the timing sort of worked out for everyone,” said McGowan, who purchased The Green Flash restaurant on Captiva two years ago.
Rosalita’s Cantina occupies about half of the Rabbit Road center with the remaining 8,000 square feet available for lease to retail and commercial clients. Rosalita’s will soon announce a partnership with a national gaming company to allow for an additional location targeted to open this fall.
The Sandbar, located on West Gulf Drive, had to be demolished as a result of storm damage. McGowan said rebuilding the restaurant is on pause right now.
“The Sandbar’s previous success was largely dependent upon the occupancy of the nearby condominiums and resorts,” McGowan explained. “With many of those projects going through renovation and repairs due to Ian, plans for any rebuilding are paused, at least until January 2024.”
“In the interim, (duPont) and I thought the property should be listed for sale just in case someone might have a more aggressive plan for the site,” concluded McGowan.
Shalimar Resort will be rebuilt in a more resilient way. “It will look different,” Niesel said, “but it will also be resilient.” He has hired architect AJO Joyce Owens, who specializes in building beachfront properties to last the test of time.
“If all goes well, we hope to be breaking ground by January 2024 and have an opening mid-to-late 2025,” Niesel said.
duPont said it was his pleasure to facilitate the transactions between these two business men, who are heavily invested in our community. “Both of these gentlement have a common aim for the future of Sanibel and are each a true testament to the resiliency of our island and our community,” he said.
“Their investments into the future are encouraging and proves, while there will be changes to our post-Ian island, not all change is bad,” duPont said. “In fact, some will even make the island and its available offerings better than ever, while maintaining the same sense of community and charm we have always enjoyed.”
duPont, a rare Sanibel native, began his real estate career in the nation’s capital before moving back home and starting duPont Residential and Commercial, originally with the late John Naumann who became his mentor, now brokered by Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Realty.
In the past 15 months, duPont has represented both parties in the sales of The Sandbar, Blue Dolphin Cottages and the Rabbit Road Center.
Rosalita’s Cantina, 975 Rabbit Rd., is now open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays.