Fort Myers moves ahead with downtown project

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By Brian Liberatore • bliberatore@news-press.com • April 22, 2010

A 1.8-acre water basin looks likely in downtown Fort Myers. The City Council this week approved a plan, first introduced last year, that includes an inlet from the Caloosahatchee River to the corner of Bay and Hendry streets.

“This helps us … be more responsible with our storm runoff,” said Mayor Randy Henderson. “And then to me, equally impactful, is its aesthetic value.
This helps us engage the river.”

Funding is coming together for the $4.5 million basin project, which planners say will spur $200 million worth of development including:

  • –  A 12-story, 220-room hotel, and a subterranean parking garage next to the city-owned Harborside Event Center overlooking the basin.
  • –  Restaurants or shops on Hendry Street along the basin.
  • –  An 82,000-square-foot addition more than doubling the size of the Harborside Events Center.
  • –  A parking garage and mixed-use development between Hendry and Jackson streets.

    “Everything we’re putting down here is based on financial feasibility studies,” said Don Paight, the executive director of the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency. “We really think this water retention basin is a critical piece.”

    The projects are included in a $700,000 plan from development company Acquest Realty Advisors and Fort Myers-based Parker Mudgett Smith Architects.

    Paight’s agency has applied for $3.5 million worth of grants from the federal government to help cover the cost of the basin project. The agency, he said, would bond for the rest of the cost. Paight expects to hear about the grants this summer. But even without federal help, the agency will still dig out the basin.

Fort Myers City Council this week approved plans to
build a 1.8 acre water basin in the River District. (Special to news-press.com)

Fort Myers moves ahead with downtown project

As crews dig, Paight said he and city officials will continue to negotiate with a hotelier willing to build a hotel overlooking the basin.

Marriott International Vice President Thomas Papelian sent a letter last year expressing interest in the site.

The downtown, Henderson said, is lacking hotel rooms. The Ambassador Hotel closed two years ago, the mayor said, after years of bad management from an absentee owner. And the Hotel Indigo, which is for sale, has less than 70 rooms.

A hotel feasibility study – done as part of the downtown plan – justifies a 200-room hotel, Paight said.

The redevelopment agency plans to build a $6 million parking garage that would serve as the hotel’s foundation and invest $7 million into expanding and updating the Harborside Event Center.

All together, the redevelopment agency plans to put about $18 million into the first stage of the downtown redevelopment plan. It will need to borrow the money. To pay back the debt, the agency will use money now tied up in tax incentives, which expire in 2013.

“It’s going to be awesome,” said Fort Myers City Councilman Thomas Leonardo. “It’s going to begin to pick up momentum, and everyone is going to want to come to the party.”