“This is a journey, not a trip,” Cereceda said. “We have the opportunity to mold something for the benefit of our Town. Look and listen, but guard your comments and wait to see this project evolve.”
Cereceda and the members of the FMB Town Council were in attendance at Florida Southwestern State College alongside members of the Board of County Commissioners to witness and discuss a presentation by Tom Torgerson, CEO of Torgerson Properties, and co-developer John Dammerman on their plans to change the face of one of Fort Myers Beach’s major Commercial districts just south of the island’s Times Square. They officially unveiled their concepts for the Grand Resorts, a $250 million development that will add numerous hotels and business spaces to the Estero Boulevard corridor.
The get together was officially a work session, thus no votes would be taken on the issue discussed that day. However, that did not keep crowds away as the meeting hall was packed with residents and business owners from Fort Myers Beach.
“We don’t get to see something this visionary, but with profound impact at the same time, very often,” County Commission Chairman Frank Mann said. “So let’s try to be calm.”
It’s not hard to see why the officials urged calm, as the proposal by the developers is quite bold. Not only will it change the very look of Fort Myers Beach for those entering the island via the Sky Bridge, there are claims that it can alter and perhaps even alleviate the infamous beach traffic.
While the local residents and officials have seen numerous proposals to produce significant changes to this vital area of the beach over the years, none seem to have gone as far as Torgerson and his group. They have already purchased many key properties on the Beach, including Helmerich Plaza, the Mermaid Club, and the Pierview Hotel.
“We studied the area, we looked at it, and said ‘wow, there’s a piece of property that’s for sale,’” Torgerson said regarding Helmerich Plaza. “That’s really ground zero to really effectuate a comprehensive change to this district and make real improvements.”
“This is a concept plan, it is a vision,” Torgerson said. “It is not something we expect in any way to be finalized. We expect there to be a lot of public input. We also expect there to be a lot of work on behalf of the Town Staff and County Staff to mold and perfect it into something that could really become reality.”
The plans include the construction of 4 hotels, ranging from 5 to 7 stories tall. These would be a 200-unit Holiday Inn, marking their return to the Beach, a 176-unit Hilton, a 100-unit Marriott, and an 86-unit Hampton Inn.
Several shops, restaurants, and a fitness center are included in this tentative plan, adjacent to the hotels. A conference center, totaling 30 thousand square feet, is also proposed.
These plans do conflict with Fort Myers Beach current Comprehensive Plan, especially in regards to height restrictions on buildings. This could be one of the major sticking points as these plans move forward to actual meetings with local officials, as any exceptions made for this development could potentially open the floodgates.
“Any future developer could sue to get those same exemptions,” A local business owner, who did not wish to be named, said. “Then we become Marco Island 2.0.”
Exceptions on height are not the only thing developers are asking the town for. While they have thorough in buying up private properties, there are still parcels they need from the town in order for their plans to work. What they are asking for are the right of ways on both Canal and Fifth Streets, the Crescent Beach Family Park, and the empty lot where Seafarer’s Mall used to stand, and has recently seen use by the construction companies doing waterline and roadwork along Estero Boulevard.
Another intriguing aspect of the proposed plans was the changes the development would make to the Boulevard in that immediate area. A traffic circle and pedestrian skywalk is currently proposed to replace the stoplight at the foot of the Sky Bridge. Up to 4-stories of parking space in the form of a parking garage, totaling approximately 1,500 slots, was also in the concept.
There are also be 3 beach accesses factored in to these plans, leading to a sea wall and boardwalk that will run 2000 feet along the gulf-side of the hotels.
Estimates of the economic impact of the project have been said to be around $1.5 billion over a 10 year period, and the development could add upwards of 500 jobs to the island. However, with this being in the conceptual stage, these numbers are preliminary.
Another presentation is planned by the developers on December 14th at 5:30 pm at Chapel by the Sea of Fort Myers Beach.