Proposed Fort Myers Beach Resort Plan Unveiled
Perhaps appropriate for the week after Halloween, the Grand Resorts Fort Myers Beach redevelopment plan for Downtown rose from the near dead, with a new and truly haunting name.
“It is now called the Fort Myers Beach TPI Joint Effort to Restore and Reinvigorate the Downtown Beach Area,” said spokesman and former Fort Myers Beach assistant town manager John Gucciardo with a smile. “That is what happens when you have a committee come up with something!”
Prior to Gucciardo speaking about the potential resort complex to Town Council and the packed chambers on Monday, November 7, Mayor Dennis Boback cautioned attendees that the presentation was for information only, and the Town had not yet received any formal application; as such, there would not be public comment. He said several people had asked him why TPI was back, after the Town turned down its grandiose plan earlier this year, but Boback reminded the crowd those were only presentations as well, with no submitted design to ever give a “thumbs up or thumbs down.” The Mayor asked everyone to avoid any outward reaction, like booing, and they took him at his word, uttering hardly a sound throughout.
Gucciardo made the one-hour presentation on TPI Hospitality’s latest proposal to rehabilitate the area just south of Times Square, an area trapped in a cycle of increasing blight since the devastation of Hurricane Charley on August 13, 2004. The highlight of the beach side will be an enclosed but open air freestanding beach club, with Gucciardo stressing that this would not be a resort amenity but open to all through an admission fee. It will house a bar and restaurant, with rentable cabanas and lounges, and feature a lazy river water attraction, with completely open views of the Gulf of Mexico.
They intend to keep the historic Cotton Shop building (Cigar Hut) but renovate it into restrooms and lockers. The structure that houses the Salty Crab would remain as well as Crescent Beach Family Park. They would tear down the Pierview Hotel and replace it with a smaller building to house a bar and restaurant, with the bar on the ground level and eatery above.
The Bay Side
The resort itself will be on the bay side, on the Helmerich Plaza site. It will be three stories, including a ground floor parking area, with all other amenities elevated and feature an architectural style that is more Fort Myers Beach than South Beach. It will have a self-contained bar and restaurant, pool, and interactive kiddie pool that guests can use as part of their resort package or go across the street to the beach club and pay admission like local residents and other patrons.
Benefits to the Town could include additional stormwater runoff collection, a redesigned and relocated Canal Street that if used for metered parking could generate $100,000 in income annually, a decorative pedestrian bridge from the 2nd story of the resort to the gulf side amenities to divert pedestrian traffic from busy Estero Boulevard, and a possible enclosed Lee Tran bus station to cut travel time on the two primary beach routes.
There is one issue, Gucciardo cautions, and that is density. “We anticipate 330 rooms,” he explains, but feels all parties can resolve this throughout the review process.
Gucciardo said that this plan stands on its own, as a vision of where TPI is now, where it is trying to go, and in the appropriate direction but, “without looking back, we obviously learned some lessons the last time. First, this concept does not rely on the coastal protection system, or the wall as many called it, to any extent, nor does it involve Crescent Beach Family Park – lessons learned!” It does not require re-routing Estero Boulevard, it is within the height requirement of three stories in a 40-foot envelop, and does not cluster buildings that block the sight lines to the beach while complementing the look and style of Estero Boulevard.
What The Town Can Be
A prime component of the new concept is that it would not greatly increase beach traffic, although Gucciardo cautioned that any development will raise it to some extent, but this “adds to the value of the beach while mitigating congestion.” Finally, the project enhances the quality of life for Fort Myers Beach, with Gucciardo emphasizing that “this land is really our downtown, not just a piece of private property, and we are laying out a vision of what the Town can be. As a result, it needs to be a value not just to resort guests but residents; it must appeal to the wider community as well as vacationers.”
Toward that end, Gucciardo said that TPI began to meet last May with local residents to discuss the concept. “We talked this over with organized groups, disorganized ones, free agents, other hoteliers and individuals. Most important, our focus groups had members who were some of the most vocal opponents to the original idea. We then balanced all this input into a viable business plan. Hopefully we are close to the correct balance.”
Since there is not yet a formal application before them, Council members kept their comments to a minimum. Anita Cereceda asked when the Town might receive the application paperwork, and where Lee County stands with the project, since it owns the Seafarer’s Mall site necessary for the development. Gucciardo replied that the Town may expect the documentation in early December, while there is a certain hesitation from Lee County because it does not want to get ahead of the Town on such an important matter.
Council member Rexann Hosafros favors the overhead walkway, while Vice Mayor Summer Stockton wanted to reinforce that this concept does not require any Town property. Mayor Boback concluded by saying he finds the concept interesting in that it is quite different from the original idea, and looks forward to the proposal. He thanked Mr. Gucciardo, as well as the audience for being quiet and polite.
Following the presentation to Town Council, TPI filed a formal request via email with Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) Chairman Frank Mann asking the county to join TPI in their application to the Town as a “potentially affected property owner.” The letter notes, “The County’s joinder in this Application would not constitute an endorsement or approval of the project.” A joint application would not obligate the county in any way and any involvement of the former Seafarer’s property would require a vote of the BoCC.
The TPI conceptual drawings shown at Monday’s presentation can be viewed at grandresortsfmb.com