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The iconic Naples Pier reopened after being closed for repairs more than four months. Mayor John Sorey, Gov. Rick Scott and longtime resident Laverne Gaynor cut the ribbon to open the renovated pier in front of several hundred guests at sunset.

Gaynor’s family paid for the pier to be rebuilt the last time in the early 1960s after it was destroyed by Hurricane Donna.

A provision of the Norris family’s generosity was that the pier always was to remain free of charge to visitors, a pledge that was restated by Sorey at the event.

The Naples pier is an iconic structure not only in Naples, but throughout Florida. The pier and the beautiful sunsets that frame it are often used as a symbol for Southwest Florida. It was built in 1888 and served as a dock for visitors coming to the original Naples Beach Hotel located near the pier at that time.

Today it’s the most visited location in Naples, and a highlight for many first-timers and returning visitors. It’s one of those places that people have to check off their list every time they are in Naples. My family doesn’t think a visit to Naples is complete unless they’ve visited the Naples Pier. It’s also popular amongst visitors who like to fish because you don’t need a fishing permit if you want to fish from the pier.

But it’s not just visitors that love the Naples Pier. It’s a gathering spot for graduating high-school seniors, and the center for fireworks on July Fourth and New Year’s Eve. It’s full of fishermen and visitors from before sunrise until after sunset. It’s Naples’ Eiffel Tower or Gateway Arch or Statue of Liberty and shows the value of a symbol to rally a community. It’s the heart of Naples.

“Just imagine for a moment what Naples would be like without it’s pier,” said Elaine Reed, president of the Naples Historical Society. “It’s a sacred place for so many people.”

It’s also one of the sole surviving structures of the original historic Old Naples. As the original homes are being torn down at a record pace and replaced by mega-mansions, the character of Old Naples, the original neighborhood that surrounds the pier, is changing permanently. The pier in many ways is a constant, one of the last remaining links to the past in a city that many residents don’t recognize anymore.

Matt Kragh, a local architect, redesigned the pier pro bono to include upgraded bathrooms and greater access from the beach.

“It’s not every day one gets to rebuild an icon,” commented Kragh. And KP Pezeshkan, the vice president of Manhattan Construction, which constructed the new pier, told the audience that rebuilding the pier would be a proud part of the history of their firm and a source of pride for each of their employees who worked on the construction.

They replaced almost 10 miles of planks with a tougher Brazilian hardwood called ipe, and completely rebuilt and expanded the bathrooms.

Total cost of the pier reconstruction was $2.7 million, and Sorey joked to the crowd to be sure to check out “the most expensive bathrooms in town.”

Sharon Kenny is author of “Where Should We Eat? A Foodlover’s Recommended Places to Eat and Drink in the Naples Area.” Follow Sharonfoodlover on Twitter or Facebook or visit www.whereshouldweeatnaples.com.

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