All The World’s A Stage
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach discussed Times Square amenities, public park improvements, Town property and beach vehicles at its newly-named but sparsely-attended Management & Planning Workshop on Thursday, May 4, at 9 a.m.
Times Square Stage
The Times Square Merchants Association (TSMA) made an offer to Council to assist in purchasing a new stage for weekend musical events, if the Town waives its $100 rental fee, while continuing to reimburse its employees to set up, tear down and store the stage. In return, the Town may use it for any events that do not interfere with the Friday and Saturday entertainment. “The existing stage is at the point of replacement,” said Town Manager Roger Hernstadt. “The new one is $9,400 and they can give $5,000.”
“How liable is the Town if someone gets hurt,” asked Mayor Dennis Boback. Town Attorney Jack Peterson replied, “No more than any other Town-owned equipment.” Vice Mayor Tracey Gore said the $5,000 is from a fundraiser organized by Lee County District 3 Commissioner and former Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker, and wondered if the TSMA pays the $4,400 balance. The Town Manager said the group is attempting to locate a sponsor to defray that cost.
Council Member Bruce Butcher asked if the Town should consider a permanent stage, so no one needs to put it up and take it down. Council Member Anita Cereceda replied that there was discussion about a band shell at Crescent Beach Family Park, “but excessive cost scrapped that. A permanent fixture in Times Square would take up a good amount of valuable space. That said, they created a nice weekly event that people come to and dance and mill around; it is a pleasant time.” Gore countered, “It only serves a few businesses, as many hire their own bands. It is crazy because there is noise coming from everywhere, with all kinds of music.” Council Member Joanne Shamp agreed, “Everyone loves Times Square but the salient point is, should taxpayers absorb the cost of a non-Town event? Using taxpayer money concerns me.”
Boback inquired about the exact labor cost to the Town, with the Town Manager replying that it is $259 each time. Shamp equated that to $13,000, plus $4,400 to complete the purchase, plus storage. “To me, that is a minimum of $20,000 on the taxpayer’s bill, so that is the question.” Cereceda acknowledged this, but asked her colleagues to remember the Association pays the bands. Gore replied that the businesses make money off the concerts, with Butcher countering, “They also pay taxes!” Cereceda suggested delaying this until the Association can make a presentation to Council, with the Town Manager saying, “We can put together an offer once we know their financial capabilities.”
What Kids Do Today
Council next addressed a potential Times Square Information Booth, relating back to the presentations from Moss Marine, Inc., and the Tourism & Information Center, Inc., at the May 1 Council meeting. Boback framed that question by asking, “Do we want a for-profit organization there to represent the Town, or a plain, old-fashioned information booth?” Cereceda said, “Times Square is valuable real estate. We are not talking about bringing in one business, but a link to many businesses, so calling this an information booth is a misnomer.” Shamp described it as a valuable service. “When I look at the proposals, one is simple while the other has creative ideas. I love the Moss Marina concept of the computerized kiosk.” Butcher favors Moss Marina’s “approach of electronics, as that is what kids do today.” Cereceda called it “thinking outside the box and in a new way. Also, Moss Marina’s proposal includes a $24,000 payment to the Town, while Tourism & Information is just $4,000. Both will sell something, so it is in the Town’s best interest to go with Moss Marina.”
Gore favors the Tourism & Information Center, “I like the small town charm of the little information booth.” Butcher then asked, “You want to give up the extra money? What about our taxpayers?” Cereceda added, “You argue on one hand that $250 for the Times Square stage setup is not enough, then you want to give away $20,000 with the other hand.” Boback agreed, “I don’t know anyone who goes into business to lose money, so no matter who we pick, they are there to make money. The big draw for me is the extra $20,000.”
Boback determined the Council consensus is Moss Marina, and instructed the Town Manager to negotiate the contract to bring to them for discussion and a final determination. The Town Attorney stated that the initial contract would be for one year, “so you can always opt out and change your mind.”
Something For Veterans
During a discussion of Bayfront Park options, Gore said she wants “something for veterans, for without them we would not be here.” Shamp said that Bayfront Park needs to be “one component in a bigger picture, as the Town owns land under the Matanzas Pass Bridge and a strip by Nervous Nellies, so we need to look at all of that together, with bike paths and sidewalks as connectors. This should be a 5-year capital improvement plan, with a veterans’ tribute a piece of this vision.”
Gore was adamant that she does not want “veterans to be an afterthought. This is the perfect spot, right across from the Coast Guard Station.” Butcher said, “My Dad was in the Navy, and I have a son in the Air Force, so I am all for vets – Yankee Doodle Dandy – but this is not only about vets. I agree with Joanne – we can do something for vets but do not need an Iwo Jima statue. It needs to be a part of the strategic plan and I look forward to talking about that.” Gore replied, “Veterans are a big deal to me and we push them aside – that makes me sad.” Cereceda said that “everything is soup, and we need to think of this as soup – we mix all the ingredients!” Gore said, “I don’t want to lose the character of our island,” with Shamp responding, ”We are not losing it, but celebrating it,” and Cereceda adding, “and memorializing it!”
Council next entered into a long discussion on maintaining Town properties, focusing on parking, beach accesses, problems with items that do not belong to the Town, right-of-way conflicts and related issues. After more than an hour of analyzing properties and corresponding photographs, Shamp said, “It is nice looking at these, but I don’t know our purpose here,” with Butcher answering, “The issue is people encroaching on our land.” Cereceda added that “we should resolve these or vacate the lands. There is no reason to just have property.” Butcher asked if they could sell the parcels to neighborhoods, with Boback responding that “we cannot sell them, only abandon them, and I am not in favor of giving people free bayside access.”
Tons of Vehicles
Council then addressed beach vehicles, with Rae Blake, the Town’s Stormwater and Environmental Technician, explaining what vehicles are allowed for maintenance, environmental and business reasons. Shamp said, “I get a lot of resident complaints that two of our employees empty trash eight times in one 8-hour shift. Those of us who live on the beach know there are tons of vehicles that run around all the time, with the effect of compacting sand and sending away migratory birds. The beach is not a secondary road for Public Works to empty trash. People say they just sit there, looking at their phones. The quiet center of the island does not need that much activity.”
Town Manager Hernstadt said, “Rae should follow the operation, to see what they do, then put together recommendations to minimize the impact, so we can analysis this and make decisions. We need to balance efficiency with environmental sensitivity and public perception,” with the Boback adding, “nothing personal against our employees.”
Under Crescent Beach Family Park enhancements, Boback would like to “take ideas to the Lee County Board of Commissioners to make it more family-friendly. Volleyball is great but it sits mostly empty, with not enough people there or things to do.” Attorney Peterson reminded Council they began a Crescent Beach Family Park Committee last November, but it still has two empty positions.
Gore added, “Beach Elementary School kids ask me all the time why there are no swings. They say there is nothing to do and they get bored.” Cereceda suggested, “We get Commissioner Kiker together with the Beach School kids, and then it will be ‘ZOOM’! Rather than a committee, let the kids tell Commissioners what they want. That is a far better plan! The school kids’ petition to Lee County Commissioners will go somewhere.”
The next Town Management & Planning Workshop is Tuesday, May 16, at 9 a.m.; following this, Council adjourned at 1:18 p.m.