Redevelopment Without Seafarer’s Land
On Thursday, March 30th, the possibilities for changes in the Downtown Fort Myers Beach area took a giant step forward as TPI-FMB, LLC submitted and Town staff accepted, a Commercial Planned Development application for their downtown project. The project encompassing nearly 5.9 acres from the base of Matanzas Pass Bridge to the Gulf of Mexico, includes a resort hotel and aquatic beach club along with restaurants, small retail stores, public access points and two elevated pedestrian crossings accessible to the public.
Project spokesman and former Town deputy manager John Gucciardo spoke to Town Council Monday, April 3rd confirming the application.
“Staff will go through their review process and then come back with additional requests for clarifications,” Gucciardo said. “Our goal is then to respond to that as soon as possible with the ultimate goal to be able to get to full public hearings and public vetting of the proposal for downtown in front of the LPA and then eventually, in front of Town Council, as we go forward. We are looking forward to that process and the opportunity for the community to weigh in on the project.”
He continued, confirming that the county-owned Seafarer’s site is no longer part of the project.
“This application that we submitted does not include, obviously, the county’s Seafarer’s property. It’s our intention, if we can come to some arrangement and some understanding with the council for approval for a development project, to go ahead without using that property. Originally we had anticipated trying to use some portion of that property. This application does not include that and we’re fully prepared to go ahead without Seafarer’s property and have the county decide at some point what they think the appropriate use for that property is.”
The 28-page application states that the development area lies within the Pedestrian Commercial Future Land Use Category, the Downtown Core/Times Square Redevelopment Area and the Old San Carlos Boulevard Master Plan and the project hopes to “promote the vision of these three elements as well as the Town’s Land Development Code by establishing unique commercial uses which support the residents as well as tourists of Fort Myers Beach while also providing: 1. Increased view corridors to the Gulf of Mexico; 2. Safe connectivity across Estero Blvd for pedestrians and bicycles; 3. Improving the existing traffic conditions of Estero Blvd; 4. Increased Beach Access and 5. Implementing a stormwater management system to collect and treat water with capacity to serve additional properties.”
The application is supplemented with historical aerial photos of the downtown area and artists’ renderings of the proposed project.
The bayside part of the project will include a hotel with parking at grade level with three floors of hotel rooms above that. Another building on the north side of Fifth Street, connected by a pedestrian overpass, will hold an arcade and meeting space.
The Gulf side of Estero will hold smaller buildings, including a new restaurant with hotel rooms above. The beach club will include a lazy river and an aquatic complex open to hotel guests and the public by fee. The historic Cotton Shop, now known as the Cigar Store will be converted to use as a shower room and changing area.
Another pedestrian overpass will connect the resort hotel and gulf side amenities. There will be public elevators and stairs leading to the overpasses. Two beach access areas are proposed.
The project hopes to decrease Estero Blvd traffic by eliminating all access points on Estero. Hotel guests will enter the resort off Crescent Street and exit onto Fifth Street. If the state chooses to put a roundabout at the base of the bridge, cars can continue on that to Fifth Street and then Crescent. If a roundabout is not built, guests will turn right onto Estero, then right on Old San Carlos and right again on a cross street and approach the hotel on Crescent Street.
How many rooms? About 262 rooms on the bayside resort plus 30 on the Gulf side over the restaurant.
Does the project comply with the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code? Developers say it does, with frequent quotes from the Comp Plan to support their plans.
The application requests two deviations. One to allow guest units to be calculated utilizing a Commercial Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and the second to allow the FAR calculation to exclude the parking under the hotel building.
“Typically with residential property,” Gucciardo explained, “you measure density – how many units. With commercial properties like this project, you measure intensity using square feet, uses, impact on traffic and storm water – how intense will the project be.”
Another issue is the use of parking area to compute FAR. “If you look at the history of the Comp Plan, Gucciardo said, “one of the big things in it was we wanted to encourage commercial development at grade level and discourage huge parking lots, so they wrote the rules so that parking counted the same as commercial space. When FEMA issued building rules in 2008– we lost the ability to build commercial properties at grade level. We can no longer do what the Comp Plan wanted, so we shouldn’t count parking against the project.”
In justification for the deviations, TPI-FMB, LLC points out in the application that the project offers several public benefits including Gulf view corridors, improved beach access, stormwater management and multi-modal improvements.
At the Monday council meeting, Mayor Boback suggested asking Bill Spikowski, the primary architect of the Comp Plan, to consult. Staff indicated that they would review the application and discuss with Interim Town Manager Jim Steele whether they would need additional assistance.
To view the complete set of project renderings, visit bit.ly/TPIFMB
August 13, 2004: Hurricane Charley destroys three hotels in downtown area: Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Sandman Motel.
June 2010: Lee County agrees to purchase Seafarer’s and gulf front property for $5.6 million, using Tourist Development Council funds. The county assures the town that it would have input on the use of property. County officials plan beachfront park with Seafarer’s property used for parking, as per TDC expectations.
July 2010: Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker urges county to have property around Seafarer’s appraised and include Town in decision-making.
August 2010: The lights go out at Seafarer’s for the final time with the closing of Jimmy B’s.
October 2010: Mayor Kiker meets with county officials to discuss what the Town would like the county to do with the Seafarer’s property, including the possibility of the Town buying it from the county.
April 2011: Town asks county to turn over Seafarer’s property to the Town and is refused.
June 2011: Seafarer’s Mall torn down. Gulf front property becomes Crescent Beach Family Park, with minimal improvements of volleyball court, shade structures and picnic tables.
April 2013: County Commission votes to reimburse the TDC $900,000 for the Seafarer’s site after use as a parking lot for beach-goers was abandoned. Town asks commission to include the Town when determining use of the site and discuss the purchase of surrounding property for traffic mitigation. Mayor Alan Mandel says the Town’s primary goal is to encourage development of a public/private partnership that incorporates the area around Seafarer’s and helps relieve the traffic bottleneck on Estero Blvd.
March 2015: Grand Resorts Fort Myers Beach begins purchasing downtown property. By October over $31 million worth of downtown property has been purchased. Grand Resorts FMB is a part of TPI Hospitality, Tom Torgerson, CEO and Board Chairman.
November 2015: TPI Hospitality and Tom Torgerson include both Seafarers and Crescent Beach Park in their initial Grand Resorts Fort Myers Beach proposal, unveiled at a joint meeting of County Commissioners and Town Council. TPI hosts four public meetings to gather input on concept.
January 2016: Town asks staff to prepare a proposal for a special projects coordinator for projects like Grand Resorts and to help expedite the permitting process.
March 2016: Town Council selects Parker Mudgett Smith firm to serve as special projects coordinator once application has been submitted.
April 2016: TPI drops Grand Resorts FMB plan and begins working with several focus groups on new plan.
November 2016: TPI reveals new concept that does not include the most controversial elements of initial plan: coastal protection system, parking garage, use of Crescent Beach Park and rerouting of Estero Blvd. Town rejects application due to lack of county approval of the inclusion of the former Seafarer’s property.
December 2016: Town Council agrees to contact Lee County Commissioners and encourage them to weigh in on the TPI proposal.
January 2017: Lee County Commissioners announce they plan to continue to use the Seafarer’s property as a staging area and TPI should not plan on using it for any development.
March 2017: Project application submitted to and accepted by Town staff on March 30, 2017. Renderings of project, not including county-owned Seafarer’s property, provided.
All renderings are courtesy of TPI Hospitality, Cities Edge Architects and Morris DePew.