CLEARWATER — It's the only hotel on Clearwater Beach where visitors won't have to fight for the room with a view.
With a facade that curves along the coastline, the 15-story Opal Sands Resort is designed to give all 230 rooms panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico.
It boasts a full-service spa, 17,000 square feet of meeting space and an Italian restaurant that will serve seafood fresh from the gulf in a dining area facing the water. Rooms will run from $250 a night up to $2,500 for the Presidential Suite.
"(The view is) almost like being on a cruise ship," said opening team manager Nancy Cimney.
Set to open next week after more than a year of construction, the $50 million Opal Sands is the latest luxury resort to sprout on Clearwater Beach in recent years along with a string of mid-sized hotels.
Five other hotels are now under construction and are expected to open in 2017, including the 700,000-square-foot luxury Wyndham Grande Hotel, the largest structure ever to be built on Clearwater Beach.
The trend toward the high end, led by the opening of the Opal Sands' sister hotel, the Sandpearl Resort, in 2007 and Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort in 2010 has brought a new clientele of visitors to the beach, beyond the mom-and-pop regulars.
But those posh accommodations are also being balanced by a series of new midrange choices: Other hotels going up next year include a Hampton Inn, a Guesthouse hotel in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn on S Gulfview, a Spring Hill Suites, Fairfield Inn and potentially a Courtyard by Marriott, which has an active permit but has not begun construction.
The rush was fed in part by a zoning change created in 2008 as a way for the city to lure more midsize hotels to the beach. The change offered an extra 1,385 rooms developers could draw from to pack more rooms per acre on their lots than regulations previously allowed.
Today, just 20 rooms remain in the reserve for grabs.
An earlier pool for luxury hotels created in 2001 helped lure the resorts standing today.
Days before opening, the Opal Sands already has 15,000 reservations on the books and an expectation to bring a unique hospitality experience to Clearwater Beach.
Thomas Walsh, 88, founder of Opal Sands developer Ocean Properties, was monitoring the last-minute painting and tile work Wednesday, along with his sons, who help run the international company.
Workers hauled in a 9-foot metal sculpture of a grouper created by St. Petersburg-based sculptor Mark Aeling that will hang above the entrance to the second-floor restaurant. Water-themed artwork, coordinated by Florida Artists Hall of Famer Christopher Still, decorate the hotel from the entrance to the meeting rooms.
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Greeting visitors in the foyer is a 400-piece glass-and-metal sculpture shaped into a wave, hand-created by Still and Aeling. Each piece is a different color, true to the hues found in the ocean, representing the various moods and elements of the gulf, Still said.
"This is celebrating what's unique about Clearwater Beach," he said.
Contact Tracey McManus at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.