Relaxed Commissioner Talks With EITA

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Kiker Unplugged!

The Estero Island Taxpayers Association (EITA) hosted Lee County District 3 Commissioner and former Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker on Monday evening, March 14, at the Fort Myers Beach Women’s Club. The relaxed and chatty Commissioner addressed Town politics, Downtown Fort Myers Beach redevelopment, reFRESH Estero Boulevard, and other issues before roughly 25 citizens.

When asked about the current relationship between Lee County Commissioners and the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council, he said that “in my five years as commissioner, the Town is on its fifth different mayor, and it feels like its fifth different Council, and each has its own personality. I think we have a closer relationship, as Mayor Dennis Boback and I served together on Town Council. There has been a lot of turmoil on Council the past few months, but that sometimes happens when you get people together, but that is the past and what happens next is the most important thing. We look forward to working with them as there are huge projects ongoing on Fort Myers Beach and you have to look at the whole picture if you don’t want to lose your sanity.”

Downtown & TPI

In addressing the latest Fort Myers Beach Downtown Development proposal by TPI Hospitality, Commissioner Kiker said, “not to sound like a smart-aleck but TPI is now the seventh different developer for Downtown since Hurricane Charley in 2004, but it is important to remember that, despite all the conversation for over a year now, they have yet to submit one single application. You have to follow the rules, meaning TPI must present one to initiate political discussion and eventually a vote, so until then it is all just talk. The public perception from the beginning, though, was this is a ‘done deal,’ because the developer took it upon himself to do several presentations to obtain feedback, so in a way he got ahead of himself to get input and that became a negative, and that is unfortunate. He is still interested in investing in the community and is not going anywhere, so we look forward to working with him through the application process and the rules we have in place.”

The Commissioner explained that any downtown redevelopment “will have a lot of moving parts, but we have smart people working together to get this to move ahead. The Town Council is ultimately in charge of this vision and they are 100 percent capable and we will help them as best we can but it is Council’s call. The worst thing that can happen is we get ahead of ourselves on this and that is not a good idea; we’ve got to bring everyone forward together and that is not an easy job for your Council, as this is complicated. One thing I do know for sure is we cannot do business the way we did, as we live in a whole new world, so let’s be fair to each other. Council has got it, and I bow to their decision, but nothing begins until they receive the application.”

He reiterated, however, for County cooperation, any potential downtown redevelopment must address traffic, parking, bicycle and pedestrian safety and esthetic characteristics. “We stand firm on that, from the beginning through today.”

When asked if it would be better to do downtown redevelopment at the same time as the reFRESH Estero Boulevard projects, to only tear up the area once, the Commissioner replied, “Each is and will be a tremendous amount of investment and effort and resources into one tight location, so you just cannot focus on the road or redevelopment but the whole picture, and there is just so much you can do there until it becomes self-destructive, counter-productive and a burden to the Town over just how much it can take all at one time, and I think we are about at that limit right now.”

reFRESH Estero Boulevard

“Every year I was mayor or on council,” Commissioner Kiker recalled, “I would get a call from someone visiting here who would say, ‘Do you know you have a traffic problem?’ Then they would tell me how to fix it because ‘this is how we do it back home.’ But this is not back home, as Fort Myers Beach is a completely unique situation that is actually pretty simple: in-season we have 25,0000 cars-a-day on a maximum capacity 14,000-car road. I recently saw a newspaper clipping from 1963 saying Lee County Commissioners approved redoing Estero Boulevard, so we have been dealing with this for over 50 years now.”

The current County Commissioners met several years back, on how to fund this huge project, “and all area mayors came together to agree that Estero Boulevard is the #1 priority for Lee County,” he related, “and everyone came on-board to fund it over 12 years for $50 million, making this almost-impossible job the single-toughest project ever undertaken by Lee County. After the first year of construction, however, it was obvious the Town, so based on tourism, could not survive that long length of time, so the County added another $30 million to complete it in roughly five years. We purposely did the hardest parts first, and now we are almost done with that.”

He corrected the perception “that we are not doing any work in front of the Red Coconut RV Park over a sweetheart deal; the simple fact is the right-of-way there is so narrow we will need to often reduce that work zone to one lane, and who wants that in-Season, so we are waiting until that ends before we work there. Now that Segment 1 is mostly done, people can see how fantastic it looks, so you have to be patient, because now that we are done (there), those property values have gone up about 20 percent!”

In addition to the actual construction, Commissioner Kiker feels that traffic control can cure a lot of problems. “People said to me for years, ‘If you can just get that trolley out from in front of me, I will be good.’ So we are incorporating trolley stop cut-ins so you can safely pass them. Rather than trying to construct a road to accommodate 25,000 cars-a-day, how about getting people out of their cars or off the road as quick as possible, or using smaller trolleys or making sure they show up on time so you don’t wait for one. Now is the time to get creative as there are a lot of things we can do, but we cannot solve all this at once so it will take patience, I beg of you, patience!”

On other matters, Commissioner Kiker is happy that the Town is looking to amend its 50% FEMA home renovation rule from five down to one year, saying, “Good for them! This is the smartest thing I have heard of in a long time.”

Commissioner Kiker concluded philosophically, saying, “I find if you don’t care who gets the credit, you get things done, but the minute somebody wants to be the one who did it, it all falls apart. By working together, we all win.”

 

Gary Mooney