Arches Not So Golden

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Council, BoCC Express Concerns

Whenever the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach meets, no one could possibly miss their backdrop, an artistic rendition of the historic stone archway that graced the entrance to the island and greeted Fort Myers Beach residents and guests from 1924 through 1979, before construction of the Matanzas Pass Bridge forced their removal. For the last several years, the “Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches, Inc.,” volunteer group has gathered up the remaining stones from the original arch, with the hope of rebuilding them at or near the original San Carlos Island location.

“Restore The Arches” found an advocate in Lee County District 2 Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, who indicated he would champion their cause at the November 5 Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) Meeting, including a 60% arch replication at Crescent Beach Family Park and related construction costs. He then delayed the item to their November 19 BoCC meeting, to obtain Fort Myers Beach Council input.

Council Comments

Council addressed the arches at its November 18 meeting, with four of its five members not in favor of Crescent Beach Park and some not sure Fort Myers Beach the appropriate spot at all.

Mayor Anita Cereceda said, “I believe Commissioner Pendergrass is waiting to see our consensus before proceeding.” Council member Bruce Butcher stated, “Commissioner Pendergrass said he is just trying to do the right thing, but frankly, I don’t know what the right thing is! If Lee County is paying for this, then maybe it is the right thing, but where in Crescent Beach Family Park and how big – I don’t know? Why not consider the LeeTran Parking Lot on San Carlos Island, as that is right next to the Matanzas Pass Bridge, so that might be a place of interest. The new lot at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center is something to think about; I am just throwing out thoughts.”

“I don’t want to discount the efforts of those working on this,” said Vice Mayor Ray Murphy, “but I don’t know how much of the original arches they still have, as I understand they only have about half and the rest is rubble. It was historic and iconic to all of us for years and I get that, but I am not certain it is appropriate on the beach, so I do not support Crescent Beach Family Park. I know it is on the mural right here, but the arches were not on Fort Myers Beach but San Carlos Island that was originally the mainland.”

Council member Rexann Hosafros acknowledged, “The group worked hard to find a location, as you can no longer have traffic drive underneath it, so when I heard about Crescent Beach Park, I thought that a good compromise, so I am not against Crescent Beach Family Park.”

Council member Joanne Shamp countered, “I love historical things but the arches were not original to the island and I don’t think Crescent Park is the place for them. They don’t have all the original stones and they can’t be the original size and can’t function at the original place. I realize they are relics so maybe better places are the Historic Society or Bayfront Square, in a smaller concept. I appreciate Lee County wants to work with us in a cooperative, positive relationship, but they already came to us once for a plan of what we want Crescent Beach Family Park to look like, and that stalled. Now they say they have money to do this through the Tourist Development Council, so let’s slow down and talk about Crescent Beach Family Park as a whole package, especially with the traffic studies that may bring a new entry feature there, so let’s work on everything in a coherent design.”

“I appreciate Commissioner Pendergrass’s enthusiasm to get involved in Crescent Beach Park,” said Cereceda, “but to me they would be completely out of place and kilter. I hope this is not the end of the conversation but a jumping-off point for Crescent Beach Family Park. That door may be open and we can talk about it when Commissioner Raymond Sandelli is here.” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt will communicate Council’s thoughts to Lee County.

BoCC Comments

Near the end of the BoCC Meeting the next day, Tuesday, November 19, Commissioner Pendergrass brought forward the arches concept: “We all know Lee County likes to preserve our history, and in the past few months, I have been working with a group that wants to restore the original arches that were the entrance to Fort Myers Beach on San Carlos Island. They cannot place it in its original location, as the roadway now is too large, so they have been talking to the community to find a new suitable location for this small monument that represents the original arch with leftover material. I spoke to some but not all members of (FMB) Town Council about this, with one suggestion having the arches in Crescent Beach Family Park, and they discussed this in-depth yesterday. The original arches would celebrate their centennial in 2024, so we would like the replica in place by then, with the funds to build the monument coming from the Tourist Development Council. This request does not include any other moneys for CBFP; simply the monument, so I request a vote to direct Staff to work with the Town or consider Lee County land on San Carlos Island to find a location for the arches.”

Commissioner Frank Mann stated, “I remember it well, but I received a couple of calls from the beach that we might be rushing this through and to take some time. Thank you for your request, but you provided no funding number.” Pendergrass replied, “We don’t know that yet; we don’t know how big it will be, based on available material – 10 feet, 30 feet?”

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais quipped that a potential alternative may be to “rebuild the former swing bridge, as when it would break down on Sundays, that gave me an excuse to come home late!” He then explained that Lee County Staff would investigate locations and cost options, “and bring those back to you a couple of times, to get your ‘Go’ or ‘No Go.’”

Pendergrass said to Sandelli, “I would love to have the District Commissioner assist. We can put the arches in a public place where everyone can see them and locals and visitors will take photos with it, so it can be a great asset for the entire community.” Sandelli said he’s like to study the concept “to get a consensus on how to move forward.” Chairman Brian Hamman called for Public Comment and no one spoke.

Hamman stated, “I support the idea to bring it to the Staff to bring back, but to be right up front, I have problems with us funding it, though not in providing the land. My concern is we have an Art Association who wants us to provide land and money to build a building in Lee County. I do not want to tell one group we can find money and another we can’t, so that is my hesitation, so no one will be blindsided when we get to the discussion.” Commissioners then voted unanimously to authorize Staff to begin the preliminary report.