The Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) met on Thursday, December 1. Roughly 30 people heard the latest presentation from TPI Hospitality for its Downtown Fort Myers Beach redevelopment, an update on the proposed Bay Harbour project for San Carlos Island and related topics.
Chairman Charlie Whitehead said that John Gucciardo, spokesperson for TPI Hospitality and former Fort Myers Beach assistant town manager, would describe the new Fort Myers Beach TPI Joint Effort to Restore and Reinvigorate the Downtown Beach Area. TPI made its original pitch roughly one year ago, but never submitted a formal plan to the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Since then, TPI met with interested stakeholders including BACA to listen to their preferences for the downtown area.
John began with an outline of what the new proposal is not: it does not require Crescent Beach Family Park; does not need the coastal protection system, or wall as many called it; does not reconfigure Estero Boulevard; and does not cluster buildings to block beach views.
The highlight of TPI’s plan is a beach side freestanding beach club that is not a resort amenity but would be open to all through an admission fee. The resort will be on the bay side, on the former Helmerich Plaza site. It will be three stories, including a ground floor parking garage, with architecture that is more Fort Myers Beach than South Beach. The building will be within the 40-foot height requirement, with a 2nd story pedestrian bridge from the resort to the beach club to divert pedestrians from busy Estero Boulevard.
Elephants, Dogs, & Ponies
Gucciardo admitted upfront to the “elephant in the room: the density of 330 hotels rooms, down from the 600 in the original proposal, but more than the roughly 220 allowable by the present code,” but feels all parties can resolve this during the review process.
Questions turned to parking, as there does not seem to be enough for resort guests, employees and the beach club. John did not know all the parking details, but employees may park off-site on the other side of the Matanzas Pass Bridge with a shuttle service.
A gentleman who declined to identify himself felt this was little more than a “dog & pony show,” and alleged that this was TPI Hospitality’s plan all along: “first float a huge concept that scares the heck out of everyone, then come back with something smaller that looks good by comparison.” After lengthy back and forth debate, John said, “I will not convince you otherwise,” to which the man replied, “you are not even trying!”
Another asked what effect the beach club would have on the Bay Oaks Recreation Center Pool. John said this was his original question as well, as the Bay Oaks Pool is near and dear to him because he oversaw its construction. The Bay Oaks demographic is lap swimmers, water aerobics and moms with toddlers and small children, while TPI is more for adults, so he foresees little conflict and in fact, opportunities for cross-marketing.
He estimated that TPI will submit its proposal to the Town in mid-December, closing to polite applause from the audience.
The Big Chairs
Following this, Whitehead reviewed the decision by Lee County Commissioners on November 16 to remand and delay the proposed Bay Harbour Marina Village development comp plan and zoning issues by a 3 to 1 vote, with Frank Mann dissenting. The developer, Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, did not object as they are making substantial changes based on a lesser zoning intensity.
Charlie said, “If the county allows Bay Harbour, there will be similar developments all over San Carlos Island and down San Carlos Boulevard to Summerlin Road.” He stated that Commissioner Larry Kiker, who represents District 3 that includes San Carlos Island and Fort Myers Beach, will attend the next BACA meeting. “We must emphasize that Bay Harbour is wildly out of compliance with the Comp Plan.” Referring to the five-person Board of County Commissioners, he said “we need three of those guys sitting in the big chairs to agree with us.”
Concerning other matters, the Florida Department of Transportation will host a public meeting on potential San Carlos Boulevard projects at Chapel by the Sea on Thursday, February 23, to which Gayle Mason commented, “It’s great they have a meeting on traffic congestion in-season! What time will we need to leave our homes in late February with all the construction to make it there on time?”
Charlie said there are four finalists for the Bay Oaks Recreation Center Director, and that “there are no chumps on the list – they are all good, experienced professionals, though two of the original nine candidates oversaw the closing of Park & Recreation Departments so we need to keep an eye on that.”
He explained there is a new community organization entitled the Estero Island Taxpayers Association, to give a voice to the roughly 84% of islanders who own property here, but do not live fulltime on Fort Myers Beach and therefore do not vote here. “This is a not a unique situation, as many barrier island communities struggle with this; the more people involved in the process, the better.”
The next Beach Area Civic Association meeting, scheduled to include Commissioner Kiker, will be in Bonita Bill’s Café community room on Thursday, January 5, at 6 p.m.