After nearly two years of speculation following its closing amidst several lawsuits a little over a year ago, the fate of the former Fort Myers Beach Golf Course has finally been decided. Last week, Mayor Anita Cereceda announced that it had been purchased by the Estero Bay Improvement Association (EIHA) – a condominium association encompassing all the individual associations along Bay Beach Lane – whose members intend to turn it into a preserve for residents of their community.
“It was a clean sale – that was the basis on which it took place,” said EIHA President Errol Hohman. “All lawsuits between the EIHA and the former owner – Chip Durpo – have been settled. We purchased the property for $2.4 million from the bank to whom Durpo deeded the property, along with the Sanibel Steakhouse, to avoid foreclosure.”
The golf course’s history on our island goes back many years. Originally built as a landing strip for famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, in 1985 the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) gave the original developers of the Bay Beach condominiums – Stardial Development – permission to build along the protected waters of Estero Bay provided they use the nine water holes on the course as a filtration system to cleanse the condos’ stormwater before it flows into the bay.
“Most all of our member condo associations have docks and many residents are boaters,” Hohmann said. “We were designed as an ‘Aquatic Community’ with golf really being a secondary recreation. Since both of those things compete for the same time, our golf course was really not used that much.”
Durpo bought the golf course in 2005, and controversy erupted between the EIHA and Durpo in 2014 when Durpo accused Bay Beach residents of not supporting the course and challenged the validity of the permit issued by the SWFMD, resulting in multiple lawsuits.
Now that all that is behind them, Hohman says Bay Beach residents are looking forward to creating their own preserve.
“When all the lawsuits were happening, we took a poll amongst our residents asking what they’d like to see happen to the property, and the #1 interest was in keeping it an open space,” Errol told us. “There was a big concern that – even though the current zoning doesn’t allow for additional development – that someone would come in and buy it and get that changed. We felt like the only way we could control what happened would be to buy it. This way, it will remain green space forever.”
Hohman said he’s not entirely sure what will end up being incorporated into the new ‘preserve’, saying residents now use the former golf cart paths for hiking and dog walking.
“Some time ago, when the condos on Lenell Street were part of the EIHA, our tennis courts were moved to that street,” he said. “In the late 90’s those condos asked to be removed from the EIHA because they were so far from us but our courts stayed behind, so one of the first things we’ll probably do is get them moved back to our property.”
Other possible uses for the property include pickleball and bocce ball courts and other passive recreational choices that keep the area open space.
“We have organized a series of committees to look into all of that over the next few months,” Hohman said. “Also there were a number of things – like keeping the lawn mowed – that have been ignored that we will be addressing. And there are some buildings that we’ll need to decide to either restore or remove.”
All in all, the property will become an amenity for the residents and Errol says the loan from the bank will be paid off within 5 years.
“From our residents’ perspective, it cost just as much to pay the attorneys for the ongoing legal battle as it does to pay off the mortgage – so for them it’s a win-win.”
Keri Hendry Weeg