A lot of things happened in 1995. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum opened in Cleveland, Ohio; tragedy occurred when Timothy McVeigh’s car bomb blew up the Oklahoma City federal building; the nation was mesmerized by O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and subsequent not-guilty verdict; and legendary Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia died. Of great significance to our community, 1995 was also the year that a drive for independence from county rule stretching back to the 1940’s finally succeeded and – at midnight on December 31st – the Town of Fort Myers Beach was born. This year, islanders, seasonal residents and visitors will celebrate on New Year’s Eve as our little town turns 20 years old.
“On Thursday, December 31st, the Town will hold a special celebration from noon-2pm where a lot of memorable figures from the last 20 years will speak in Time Square,” said Adam Leicht, Athletic and Fitness Coordinator for the Town’s Parks and Recreation Department, who are putting together the event. “There will be cupcakes donated by Cupcakes in Paradise, along with noisemakers, hats and other party favors.”
The first drive for incorporation came way back in the 1940’s, and failed by only six or seven votes. A second try later in the ’40’s lost by a larger number, but not overwhelmingly so. Then an attempt in November 1953 was handled so badly that the proponents literally gave up even before the referendum date.
The drive continued anew in 1957, when a new charter was drawn up stating that the millage rate could be no higher than 2 mils without a special referendum. This attempt lost by only 88 votes, and another one using the same charter lost by 50 votes in the winter of 1960. Emotions ran high amongst those who wanted to incorporate, as people were tired of being ruled by the remote county commission. Those opposed feared higher taxes and that their property would be rezoned in the best interests of the new Town.
Two more drives – one in 1982 and another in 1986 – also would fail, and then – in 1994 – Lee County commissioners did something that pushed many island residents over the edge, they reneged on their promise to create a park on a vacant piece of land on Virginia Street and sold it to a developer instead despite vigorous opposition from islanders. That property would become DiamondHead Resort – now a beautiful addition to our island – but the fires of incorporation were lit anew and the referendum asking the state to grant incorporation finally passed via mail-in ballot – which generated a higher number of votes since people didn’t have to leave their homes to vote. The State Legislature approved the required legislation, and it became law without Governor Chiles’ signature on June 17, 1995. Elections for Town Council were held in November and December and on December 31, 1995; the Town of Fort Myers Beach was born.
Over the years, the Town has had and continues to have growing pains as we evolve into a thriving community and popular tourist destination but our island spirit has remained true to form and – despite our differences – islanders keep striving to make our community better as we move into our third decade. Our annual birthday party is a celebration of that community spirit.
So join us next week as we toast to the New Year and to 20 years as a Town. Following the speakers, there will be live music throughout the day in Time Square, plenty of glow sticks and other toys for revelers for sale and open alcohol will be permitted throughout the Time Square pedestrian area.
Happy Birthday, Town of Fort Myers Beach!!!
Keri Hendry Weeg