CHARLOTTE HARBOR & THE GULF ISLANDS, Fla. (Aug. 12, 2014) — Ten years ago, the Category 4 storm named Hurricane Charley slammed the shores of Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. In spite of the destruction, the community united to care for each other and the environs that reflect the character of its people. That spirit, along with a host of new hotels, a new airport terminal, several “live, work, play” projects, and new attractions, define the renaissance of Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, Florida.  This Southwest Florida community is now finding its stride and strength as a viable beach, nature and cultural heritage destination with new and improved infrastructure support needed to keep pace with the growing demand of visitors and residents.

A 25-foot tall memorial statue representing the community’s resilience and spirit following the storm was dedicated in 2007. Called “Spirit of Punta Gorda,” it’s of two palm trees, one standing straight and the other bent. Artist and sculpture Peggy McTeague crafted the statue with steel and hurricane debris. The sculpture’s base is a sundial permanently fixed at 4:27 p.m., the exact time Hurricane Charley stopped the city's historic downtown Punta Gorda clock on Friday, August 13, 2004. “Spirit of Punta Gorda” is located in located in Laishley Park on the banks of the Peace River.

Developments Since 2004 Include

  • $5.5 million new Bailey Airport Terminal at Punta Gorda Airport opened in 2007;
  • Scheduled air service with Allegiant Aircommenced in March 2009. The airline provides nonstop service from Punta Gorda to 23 cities.
  • The $19.7 million, 43,000 sq. ft. Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center held its grand opening in January 2009. The facility has attracted sporting events, trade shows, concerts, meetings and conferences.
  • $27 million rebuilt and expanded sports arena; New Spring Training home of the Tampa Bay Rays and summer home for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Cal Ripken Jr.’s Single-A minor professional baseball team opened in 2009. 
  • More than 500 new hotel rooms were added to the area’s inventory between 2007 and 2009 with nearly 400 quality hotel rooms adjacent to the new conference center including the Wyvern Hotel(64 rooms, opened in November 2008) and the Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside(106 rooms, opened in May 2009)
  • Expanded restaurant selection range from seafood shacks, sidewalk cafes and casual waterfront eateries to eclectic and fine dining.

New Attractions Include

  • Rick Treworgy’s Muscle Car Citymuseum with an unmatched display of over 200 high performance GM cars and Chevys along with a 1950s diner and memorabilia store opened in March 2009;
  • Lemon Bay/Myakka Trail Scenic Highway– Designated a state scenic trail by the Florida Department of Transportation in February 2008. The State Road 776 corridor travels in both Charlotte and Sarasota counties and includes loop roads to highlight historical and natural treasures;
  • Laishley Municipal Marina Parkamenities expansion featuring a $7.5 million investment including a 32,000 sq. ft. waterfront facility with retail space on the first floor, the 16,000 square foot Laishley Crab House Restaurant on the second along with public park amenities such as an interactive fountain, two open-air pavilions, landscaping, additional public parking; and marina with 85 slips, public boat launch, and Ship Store. 
  • Twenty beautifully designed benches painted by local artists and installed in April 2010 line Englewood’s Dearborn Street.
  • Yellow Bike Loaner Program- Florida’s first free bike loan program was launched in the City of Punta Gorda by the volunteer organization TEAM Punta Gorda in 2010.  Complimentary bicycles are located throughout downtown. In February 2013, the program saw a 300 percent increase in visitor usage of the Yellow Bike program.
  • Cape Haze Pioneer Trail– the one-way, 7.8-mile rails-to-trails pathway leads riders from Englewood to the entrance of the Boca Grande Causeway.
  • Punta Gorda Pathways- a system of approximately 18 miles of Bicycle and Pedestrian Trails and Paths connecting the City's neighborhoods, parks, and commercial areas. 

Future Attractions

  • Fat Point Brewing is Charlotte County’s first and only craft and microbrewery. A sampling of beers produced includes Ryeght Angle IPA, Big Boca Ale and Bru Man Chu and are available in several local bars. Its taproom is scheduled to open early fall 2014 in Punta Gorda.
  • Florida Tracks & Trails in Punta Gorda, is under development to become the state’s only multi-themed outdoor adventure and live entertainment park of its kind. The family-friendly 1,000-acre park will include the state’s largest capacity outdoor concert amphitheater, miles of one-directional OHV trails, five professionally designed Motocross tracks, 56 acres of world-class paintball, RV campgrounds, zip lines, a recreational lake, and a full suite of on-site amenities such as equipment rentals, party pavilions and more. First phase of the park is scheduled to open Q4 2014. 
  • Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Gardens- In Fall 2016, the Tetrault Family Foundation will debut the diverse botanical and artistic beauty of one of Florida’s most breathtaking garden parks -- the Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Gardens. Located in Punta Gorda abutting the Peace River, a 50 million year-old stone palm frond fossil serves as the inspiration for the logo and signature sculpture for these spectacular waterfront gardens which will encompass 27 acres. Mother Nature, architectural ingenuity and contemporary interpretive art will combine to offer one of the largest sculpture gardens in the State of Florida.

This collection of charming coastal communities, authentic Florida fishing villages, string of barrier island pearls, beautiful state and local parks, and artsy enclaves now welcome nearly 300,000 visitors annually and is a vacation destination worth a new look.

At the heart of the area’s tourism appeal lies 28 miles of pristine and uncrowded beaches, expansive back county, deep sea, fresh and saltwater fishing, 830 miles of navigable waterways for canoeing, kayaking and boating along Charlotte Harbor and the Peace and Myakka rivers including nearly 200 miles of Blueway Trails for kayaking and canoeing,  and unparalleled opportunities to view wildlife and birds including upland swamp buggy eco-toursfor an up-close view of true Florida including Cracker Cattle, alligators and more. Undisturbed by development, the miles of protected shoreline and barrier islands also provide crucial bird habitats and draw visitors year-round.  Named by Golf Digest as the third Best Place in America to Live and Play Golf, the area also features 21 scenic golf courses ranging from executive to championship level and most offer year-round play

Punta Gorda, founded in 1884 and set on scenic Charlotte Harbor, presents eclectic charm with historic homes and quaint shops located along brick paved and tree-lined streets.  Historic Punta Gorda contains various architectural styles prevalent in the early 20thCentury. The walkable city is enhancing its future by preserving its past.

Well-known Punta Gorda tourist attraction Fishermen’s Village sustained more than $3.5 million in damages due to Hurricane Charley but quickly restored and improved all facets of the Village infrastructure and aesthetics. It continues to be an integral part of a historic community offering a waterfront mall, marina and resort featuring boutiques, restaurants, fishing charters, harbor boating excursions, boat and kayak rentals, vacation villas, live entertainment and special events. Fishermen’s Village draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for its amenities as well as the stunning panoramic views afforded by its spectacular waterfront location.

Punta Gorda is also solidifying itself as the arts and cultural center of the area with a bevy of local galleries and artists and respected theatre and symphony companies. New art galleries are on the scene, and a series of 27 building-size murals depicting the area’s rich history have been refurbished. Punta Gorda Wine & Jazz Festival (usually held in February) has been recognized as one of the Top 20 Winter Events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society and the Peace River National Art Festival (usually held in March) is emerging as a regional favorite for its high quality art offerings.

Area gallery walks in Punta Gorda and Olde Englewood Village on Dearborn Street boast galleries and boutiques for browsing and buying. On Thursday evenings informal musical jam sessions take place on the shores of the Peace River in Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda. In historic El Jobean, bluegrass jams are enjoyed Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Bean Depot Café.
The area’s myriad natural attractions, plethora of nature centers and tours, diverse shopping and spa opportunities coupled with the crown jewel of Charlotte Harbor, provide a compelling incentive to rediscover this Southwest Florida corner of paradise.

About Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands 
Located halfway between Tampa and Naples on the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands is a charming collection of nine coastal communities surrounding the state’s second largest harbor. Florida’s premier year-round eco-tourism destination, the area offers a pristine unspoiled beauty. In 2014 Port Charlotte has been named the top U.S. Best Value Destination by trivago, the world’s largest online hotel search site, and the Charlotte Sports Park, spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays, was voted “Best Spring Training Facility” by readers of USA TODAY. A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands has been named one of SAIL magazine’s “10 Greatest Places to Sail in the United States,” ranked by Golf Digest as “Third Best Place to Live and Play Golf in America,” and rated by MONEY magazine as one of the “Best Places to Live in the South.” Englewood was named second of the Top Ten emerging travel destinations in the U.S. by TripAdvisor.com. The area is served by five airports: The Punta Gorda Airport (PDG) with private and charter air service, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), Southwest Florida International Airport, Ft. Myers, (RSW), St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) and Tampa International Airport (TPA).

For more information on visiting Charlotte Harbor visit www.CharlotteHarborTravel.com or call1-800-652-6090.

CONTACTS:

Jennifer Huber
Tourism Public Relations Manager
Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau
(941) 743-1900
Jennifer.Huber@CharlotteFL.com

Mary Jane Kolassa / Cindy Dobyns
Above Water Public Relations & Marketing
(407) 463-0040 / (239) 596-9149
MJKolassa@AboveWater.com  / CDobyns@AboveWater.com

Charlotte Harbor Visitor 
& Convention Bureau
18500 Murdock Circle, Suite B104
Port Charlotte, FL 33948
941-743-1900, FAX: 941-764-4932
www.CharlotteHarborTravel.com