Hotel Plan for Topps Revealed, Seeks Input; BORCAB Skeptical

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If the representative for a potential new Estero Boulevard 40-room hotel project was hoping for a warm-and-fuzzy initial Fort Myers Beach reception, he did not receive it at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) Meeting on Thursday morning, January 24, before a handful of residents in Town Hall.

BORCAB Chair Betty Simpson called the meeting to order at 9:05 a.m., with Dan Allers, Becky Bodnar and Lee Melsek in attendance to provide a quorum. Janna Holmes and Rae Sprole were on Excused Absences, with Dave Anderson missing the meeting. Alison Giesen, the Director of Cultural Resources for the Town of Fort Myers Beach, Mound House Director and Interim Parks & Recreation Director, and Sarah Mayher represented Town Staff, with Mayor Tracey Gore present as the BORCAB liaison.

Under “Topps Center Redevelopment Project,” Al Quattrone, President of Quattrone & Associates of Fort Myers, representing the as yet unnamed hotel developer, presented information on the potential redevelopment of the 2.6-acre Estero Boulevard site that for several decades housed the former Topps Supermarket, seeking input on what might benefit Bay Oaks Recreation Center as they proceed with designing the development.

“This will be close to the Bay Oaks Recreational Center, in a part of the Fort Myers Beach civic core that has visual blight, with little pedestrian access to Bay Oaks and little visibility from Estero Boulevard,” explained Quattrone. “We hope this 3-story building project can provide greater visibility and walkability to Bay Oaks, to advance the neighborhood. We envision a hotel with retail in some form as the highest and best use, and hope to provide public benefit to Bay Oaks to increase the multiplier on the number of rooms from 2.5 to 3.0 to construct a 40-room hotel. There will be parking on the lower level, rooms on the upper two, a commercial or retail building out front, perhaps as a restaurant, and a service building in-between, with a fountain courtyard, trolley stop and sidewalk to interconnect to Bay Oaks.”

Bay Oaks Visibility a Bugaboo

Allers did not see how the project would visually benefit Bay Oaks. Melsek was puzzled as to why BORCAB was even hearing the presentation, with Gore answering that the developer wants feedback to enhance Bay Oaks and the Community Pool to increase their chances for approval later in the process, when they bring it before the Local Planning Agency (LPA) and Town Council. Allers stated that, if anything, a hotel there would block Bay Oaks visibility, “so you cannot see anything.” Quattrone said they are open to suggestions, such as “perhaps turning the building so it is parallel to Estero Boulevard.”

Melsek asked if the developer had yet to consult adjacent neighbors, saying “maybe these folk have ideas. Have you or do you plan to do that?” “Not yet,” replied Quattrone. “This is our first public appearance, so it is the first time anyone is seeing the plan.” “Something will happen to that property because it is too valuable,” acknowledged Simpson. “Bay Oaks visibility has always been one of our bugaboos, to let people know where it is.” Bodnar wondered if the potential sidewalk could take people directly from Estero Boulevard to Bay Oaks. Allers asked if the hotel green space could be a portion of a future Bay Oaks fitness trail. Melsek suggested a Bay Oaks kayak launch on the property’s canal. Quattrone said he was happy to discuss these possibilities with the property owner. Melsek became more direct, stating that “Bay Oaks is always looking for money – what would your owner think about donating some bucks!”

Melsek reiterated that the owner should discuss the proposal with adjacent property owners, “as that should be first in my book, before you start talking about what you can do for us. When do you plan to bring this before the LPA and Council?” Quattrone replied, “Maybe in about 45 days.” Allers stated that “I have all kinds of suggestions, but this is early in the game.” Simpson thought that it was a “pretty large building on a small parcel; it will really fill up that space.” Melsek noted the plan has a swimming pool, and wondered if the developers might eliminate that, “as you will be right next door to our swimming pool; maybe you can send some business to us.”

Public Forum Planned

BORCAB asked Gore her opinion. “They can do something there by right, but I think it is too big for that property; it does not fit our small town character. They need a deviation to increase their size and can obtain that by providing a public benefit.” Allers said, “I agree it is pretty big and something will happen there, but the layout is not great. We have local people here who will have to look at it every day and live next door to it, so I am curious what they say.” Simpson remained unsure the project could provide any benefit to Bay Oaks, with Melsek in agreement.

Resident Larry Abramoff worried about the building heights, additional sidestreet traffic, noise mitigation plans “especially from the tiki bar, as noise travels over water, mostly when I want to go to sleep. Answers to these questions will build confidence in the neighborhood to accept this.” Delbert Clark, who lives directly across the street, prefers another grocery store as well as relocating the crosswalk to a more logical location. Melsek thought that was an excellent idea: “With a 40-unit hotel, that would almost be a necessity or people will walk right through the middle of Estero Boulevard to get to the beach. These folks have legitimate concerns.” “This is just what we want,” answered Quattrone: “As much feedback as we can get! We will look at all of these as we go along with the design and will host a public forum to get more input from as many residents as possible.”

Under “Mayor & Council Initiative Update,” BORCAB will hold a joint meeting with the Community Resources Advisory Board to discuss the “Heart Of The Island” concept on Tuesday, February 12, in Council Chambers at 1 p.m. BORCAB is tentatively scheduled for a joint session with Council on Thursday, February 7, in Town Hall at 1 p.m. Melsek said he would like to attend, however, but cannot that day so BORCAB will try to reschedule.

Under “Department Update & Strategic Plan Report,” Mayher stated that she and Giesen are working on the Long Term Strategic Plan draft to be ready for the February BORCAB meeting. Giesen stated she has Long Range Plan experience with the Mound House and is presently working on another for Newton Beach Park. Melsek would like to add additional elements and Giesen stated he could do that.

Melsek asked if the Town planned to hire a new fulltime Parks & Recreation Director as the previous one, Sean DePalma, recently resigned to accept a similar position in Georgia. Giesen explained she is the Interim Director, with Gore stating that decision is the duty of Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, who wants time to analyze the current arrangement. Melsek asked Giesen how it is working out “juggling three hats,” with Giesen answering good-naturedly, “I will tell you in about a week!” Bodnar asked Giesen if she had any Parks & Recreation experience. Giesen replied that she has performed Parks & Recreation aspects at every historic site she’s worked at over the past 25 years including Newton Beach Park with the Town, emphasizing, “The Parks & Recreation staff is great!” Simpson stated that Mayher “will be invaluable,” with Gore commenting that “I am a huge Alison Giesen supporter!”

hotel plan, topps site, fort myers beach
Possible site plan for hotel development on former Topps property, showing possible Bay Oaks access from Tropical Shores Way.

Pursue Bay Oaks Grants

Under “Member Items,” Melsek asked if the Town had any involvement with the “Restore The Arches” volunteer effort, and when Mayher responded, “I don’t know of any,” he replied, “Good!” Melsek then asked if it were possible for BORCAB to meet with Ron Book, the Town’s Tallahassee lobbyist, to attain Parks & Recreation grants or allocations for Bay Oaks. Giesen stated that she has extensive grant writing experience, with Simpson agreeing that “it is time” for Bay Oaks to pursue these opportunities.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt briefly joined the meeting, stating that due to Mr. Book’s tight schedule and travel time from Tallahassee, it was extremely unlikely he would be able to personally attend a BORCAB Meeting; a response that did not please Melsek. Hernstadt stated that most grants and allocations are mainly for new buildings and not enhancements to existing facilities, with Melsek replying, “a new building – now you are on my radar! That building was constructed badly from the get-go and we should build a real community center! The Town should find a way to go after that, as over the years it has not been very aggressive. I would like to see that process begin.” Hernstadt said that should be a topic for BORCAB’s joint meeting with Council.

BORCAB left its next regular meeting date open, for either February 14 or 21, as schedules permit, in Town Hall at 9 a.m., before adjourning at 10:50 a.m.

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news