Update: On July 9, 2020 Chris Patton filed her third lawsuit against the Town of Fort Myers Beach seeking to stop the Margaritaville – FMB Resort. This one challenges the constitutionality of the use of “exceptional circumstances” in the town’s code
That’s the entire decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeals in the case of Chris Patton vs. Town of Fort Myers Beach and TPI-FMB, issued July 8, 2020. No opinion, no equivocation, just “Denied.” The decision indicated that all three appeals court judges – Northcutt, Kelly and Atkinson agreed with the decision.
Tom Torgerson, representing TPI Hospitality, was “pretty darn excited” about the decision on Wednesday morning and immediately wanted to thank the Fort Myers Beach community for its ongoing support over the almost two-year-long “ridiculous legal challenge.”
TPI’s next step will be to put together their financial package for funding the project. “We didn’t want to wear out our welcome with our funding sources with an on-and-off again situation as we worked through the legal process,” Torgerson explained. “We will also put together our bid package. With this decision, we’re ready to get this project moving! We hope to begin demolition and break ground by year’s end.”
“I’m pleased that while we’ve been delayed, the state, county and town have been moving forward with roadway projects, like the bridge and interchanges,” said Torgerson, “so by the time we are ready to open, much of that will be completed.”
“Our permitting is in really great shape, as we have been doing all that we can to move this project forward during the delay. We’ve invested in design work and permitting and we’ve just kept the pedal down!”
Hesitant to discuss the costs of the two year delay, Torgerson estimated that the legal challenge and delay have cost project developers about $30 million. “That’s without legal fees, which are probably in the $1 million ballpark just by themselves. The legal fees are just a small percentage of what the two-year delay of this project has cost us. We bought the land, not on speculation, but to build on. We didn’t go for any entitlements, we went into this full bore and were ready to begin construction two years ago. We would be open today if not for the lawsuits. Think of the revenue lost, just from that fact. We have $50 million invested in land. That’s real money, that if invested in something else, would have provided a financial return, instead we’ve had expenses, legal and others to just keep the property up. So, yes, the lawsuits had some very real costs for us.”
Amazing Community Support
Despite those costs, Torgerson’s joy could not be constrained this week. His focus quickly turned back to the “amazing support we’ve received from the vast majority of people on the island who’ve hung in there with us. They want this. It’s right for the Island. We can’t say enough how much we appreciate that support.”
“Wildest ride of my life!” exclaimed Torgerson.
The question on everyone’s mind: when will Margaritaville be open? Torgerson could only estimate. “If we begin by year’s end, it should take 18 – 24 months to complete” which puts an estimated target opening date of end of year 2022, but at this point, it’s all conjecture until shovels hit the ground.
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy in announcing the decision said, “We as a community are pleased that the 2nd District Court of Appeals agreed with the Circuit Court that the Town of Fort Myers Beach did indeed follow its own codes. After this long-drawn-out process, we can now look forward to the redevelopment of the north end of our island!”
The lawsuit, which was denied this week, along with another one that was withdrawn over a year ago, have kept the Margaritaville project on hold for two years. Final Town Council approval was a unanimous decision on May 21, 2018. Patton filed two lawsuits with the support of Robert Conidaris, Lani Kai Island Resort owner on August 8, 2018, dropping one of them in June 2019. When her request for a Writ of Certiorari was denied in September 2019 in the circuit court, she appealed to the Second District Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were heard on June 9, 2020. That appeal was denied July 8, 2020.