TPI – FMB
Every few weeks The Island Sand Paper invites a local newsmaker to answer six questions to help our readers better understand a local topic of interest. This week we asked Tom Torgerson, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of TPI Hospitality, to share his thoughts on the TPI-FMB downtown redevelopment project. In March 2017, TPI submitted a Commercial Planned Development application for several parcels of downtown Fort Myers Beach property.
What is the current status of the TPI downtown development? When do you hope to have a public hearing on the project?
“We are having very productive reviews with Town staff and consultants. A significant amount of the work involves coming to a common ground on interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code while then adjusting our submission as needed. We are very impressed with the attention to detail and the spirit of cooperation in working together in a very professional manner. It is taking some time, but that is understandable, and both sides just want to get it right. To put it a little bit into perspective, Bill Spikowski, one of the Town consultants, stated this is one of the most complex plans he has worked on. And for further perspective, the proposal being reviewed, if approved, exceeds the entire project cost of the Estero Blvd. project including storm water and all utilities. There will be some deviation requests in exchange for public benefits, however, we are working to keep that to a minimum, and logic driven under the circumstances.”
Why Fort Myers Beach?
“It is really a time and place situation. We had recently moved here full time after many years of being a seasonal resident, mostly living on a boat. The major turning point was attending a Town Council Downtown Planning Meeting the winter/spring of 2015. We observed the desire to rejuvenate a significant portion of the downtown that had aged and then Hurricane Charley took its toll on it as well. From there forward, with our partner John Dammermann, it has been let’s get this done. Granted our Grand Resorts concept was out of step with a lot of the community but proved a painful and valuable learning experience. Since then we engaged a broad section of the community in the design process for our current proposal that we call TPI-FMB. We will have new renderings of this proposal within the month and will post them on our www.TPI-FMB.com site.”
The approval process for a project like this is complex. Would you explain briefly the process and timeline of submitting the Commercial Planned Development application?
“We abandoned our efforts on the Grand Resorts concept in March of 2016 and began a process of involving community members in developing an alternate plan. March of 2017 we submitted this new plan to the Town. Since then we have been interacting with Town staff and consultants to ensure conformity with the Comp Plan and LDC. Although not for certain, we anticipate our first hearing to be with the LPA in December. This would mean we would be in front of the Council after the first of the year for a couple months of hearings at that time and perhaps a vote by February or March.”
How has this process and timeline compared with other development projects TPI has done?
“It is much different, although each one has its own nuances and challenges. This is by far the largest single project TPI has ever taken on and is located on the coastline in a small barrier island community, by definition, very challenging at the least.”
Prior downtown developers gave up and moved on. What about this project and location has kept you moving forward?
“As I have researched previous failed attempts to redevelop this area, the common element seems to have been financial challenges of one type or another. We are committed to this project, and different than predecessors, we are not looking to flip it once approved but rather build it, own it and operate it. We intend to be a part of Fort Myers Beach for a long time!”
What do you think are the best and most unique design or operational aspects of this project?
“The absolute best attribute, although there are many, has to be the consolidation of the resort structures Bay side of Estero Blvd. allowing for the openness of beautiful landscaped Gulf views this creates as you arrive onto the Island. It took consultants and community focus group members to get me there, but once we concepted it, it was beautiful and had my full support. Next would probably be the grade level pedestrian friendly community interaction of space. The Comp Plan envisioned this, but it has become so challenging to accomplish due to FEMA moving the VE flood zone Bay side of Estero Blvd. in this district. From there, honestly, the list goes on with safety, traffic, parking and other related benefits. And if approved, it will set the bar so high that it will minimize any possibility of setting precedents going forward. We are very excited to bring this plan forward!
“By Thanksgiving time, please check out our new project renderings, that will be reflective of the Town staff and consultants review process, at www.TPI-FMB.com”