Fire Board To Buy Topps Land

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Room for New Station 31 & Admin Services

Station 31 of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, the first fire station for the island, and for many years the only one, has been pronounced obsolete several times in its long life. It’s struggled along, making do as best department staff could, but even a recent coat of paint was not enough to hide its flaws, chief among them, its landlocked size, just 0.11 acre.

Exactly a year ago, on January 8, 2019, the Board of Fire Commissioners began the process of replacing Station 31, located at Estero Blvd and Donora Blvd by authorizing Fire Chief Matthew Love to make an offer on an appropriate piece of land contingent on board approval and assessment of the property.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, Love brought the Fire Board a contract, which the board unanimously approved, to purchase the property on which Topps Supermarket, a liquor store and various other retail businesses operated over the years at 2545 and 2555 Estero Blvd. The price: $3,992,000.

Attending this meeting were Board Chair Larry Wood, Vice-Chair Ron Fleming, Commissioner John Bennett and Commissioner Jacki Liszak. Commissioner Bob Raymond was absent.

Topps

Topps Supermarket closed in April 2018 after a 22 year run by owners Dave and Debbie Carney, when they lost their lease. Prior to Topps, the building was a Winn Dixie Supermarket. In April 2019, both buildings on the property were demolished.

The property is owned by the Holcomb and Kaul family trusts. During Wednesday’s Fire Board meeting, Chief Love indicated that the current owners were “very good to work with, especially when they learned the Fire Department was the interested party.” According to the Lee County Property Appraiser’s Office, the market value for both parcels in 2019 was $2,124,090.

A needs assessment completed in 2017 concluded that the ideal location for Station 31 would be between its current location at 3043 Estero Blvd and Times Square, specifically at Estero and Delmar, just four blocks from the Topps property.

The current Station 31, put into service in 1951, is well beyond its useful life. In 2002 a building assessment concluded that it should be torn down or receive substantial renovation that would give it another 10-15 years. The fire district chose to renovate. In the last few years the district has spent increasing amounts to keep it habitable and safe, Love explained in the January 2019 discussion.

With the Fire Board’s approval, due diligence activities regarding the property can begin. In the first 90 days, a survey, environmental site assessment and property appraisals will be completed on the 2.15 acre site.

Tremendous Opportunity

Speaking to the Sand Paper following the meeting, Chief Love said that the new site would allow the district to combine all their activities in three stations. “Station 31, the Administration Center, now on Voorhis Street, and most of the admin functions now based on the third floor of Station 32, can be housed at the new Station 31. That will free up some storage space in Station 32 so we can get rid of our storage units also.” He also indicated that the 2.15 acre site would allow the district to design the station for the present and the future, and may result in excess land that could be sold. But that decision is far in the future, he explained. First comes due diligence and closing on the land purchase.

At the January 2019 meeting, Fire Department Finance and Administrative Services Director Jane Thompson discussed several options for paying for the land and new station, including a special referendum to raise the department’s tax rate for a set period of time, using reserves or a bank loan. At that time the department estimated that the land and building cost would be in the $7 million range.

Board members were enthusiastic about the purchase for the department. Commissioner Ron Fleming said, “Congratulations to Chief Love. He’s put together a tremendous opportunity for our district, this island and everyone who lives or visits here.”

“Living on the island, working here, as Executive Director for the Chamber of Commerce and as a Fire Commissioner, I understand the importance of all that that the Fire Department does for all of us. I’m committed to providing them with the tools and equipment they need,” said Commissioner Jacki Liszak. “And it’s another piece of land that will be cleaned up and serve the whole community.”

“Great accomplishment and a really big deal for the community!” added Commissioner John Bennett. “We’re moving forward with modernization of the island’s fire service.”

“It is looking at the future. It looks as if we’re creating a Town Center. We have Town Hall, Bay Oaks, Beach School and the Beach Library, all within that small area. It’s just phenomenal! It’s so good to be a part of this!”

Other Business

The board approved the purchase of two light support vehicles, both included in the current budget as part of the Capital Sustainment Plan.

In a follow-up to a matter discussed at the December 11, 2019 meeting, Chair Larry Wood read a letter of formal sanction of Vice Chair Ron Fleming in relation to a violation of board procedures by direct communication with labor negotiators and making an inappropriate statement about the district’s Fire Chief. At the December meeting Fleming admitted the violations of board policy, expressed remorse and stated he would not repeat the violations. The board voted 3 – 0, with Fleming not voting, to enact the sanction statement of record.

International Association of Firefighters Local 1826 Vice President Henry Garcia spoke to the board, addressing the issue of his communication with Fleming, stating that Fleming did nothing wrong in meeting with him. Garcia said that he believes that the board would benefit from hearing from both sides during contract negotiations. He also said that Local 1826 has not filed any complaints with PERC or the state in regard to the Fleming conversations.

The next meeting of the Fire Board will be February 12, 2020 at 9:30am at the Beach Library.