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County buys foreclosed Beach property

By Staff | Jun 1, 2010

The future of property which was once included in a Times Square redevelopment project at the foot of Fort Myers Beach is now in the hands of Lee County officials. On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners locked up an approved purchase agreement for the acquisition of parcels at 1080, 1113 and 1130 Estero Blvd.
According to county documents, Gulf front lots once occupied by Howard Johnson, Days Inn and Sandman Motels may soon become a beach-side park much like Lynn Hall Park. The plan for the roughly 38,000-square-foot Seafarer’s Mall building at 1113 Estero Blvd. includes demolition with an intended use for parking. The purchase price of the properties is $5.6 million.
After much debate on what funds should be used for the purchase, the BOCC agreed 3 to 1 to use Tourist Development Council funds to purchase the majority of the acquisition. Alternative secondary funds discussed included the General Fund, Conservation 20/20 funds and other tourist revenues.
Chairperson Tammy Hall, the lone dissenter, said she supported the acquisition but stated “the TDC is not in the land acquisition business.”
“I do not recommend the BOCC support this at this time with hurricane season coming and not knowing what is going on out there in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Hall about using TDC reserves. “This industry is just on its knees right now. It is the only thing holding up this economy.”
Commissioner Ray Judah believed the money, which had been set aside for a full beach re-nourishment project on the Beach, should be used.
“If we would have been able to do the entire 4.6 miles of the beach re-nourishment project on Fort Myers Beach, we were going to spend $3.5 million from TDC funds,” he said. “We spending about $1.1 million of TDC tax revenue for that project. I can’t think of a greater rational nexus than using TDC reserves to actually buy beach front property. We have sufficient general fund reserves in case of another situation like the hurricane in 2004.”
Last Thursday, Judah called Tuesday the “day for the decision” and said he hoped the BOCC would acquire the Seafarer’s Mall building and the three undeveloped beach front lots across the street from it during its regular meeting. He also hoped the purchase would allow the planned re-nourishment project to be extended south of the pier and include the lots.
“Steve Boutelle, our marine science director, indicated that we can look to work within the design modifications of the permit to allow nourishment of those three lots also,” said Judah.
In past discussions, Fort Myers Beach Town Council suggestions on the Seafarer’s Mall building have varied from parking on the lower half and retail on the upper half to moving Town Hall to the location to demolishing the building and a possible re-routing of traffic by adding an extension to Estero Boulevard. Many islanders have expressed interest in a park at the vacant lots across the street from the mall. Kiker called it “the most strategic property on island.”
But, for now, the once mega project that included the proposed building of a luxury 269-room hotel, thousands of square feet of space for high end retail stores; a 600-car parking garage and three pedestrian overpasses over Estero Boulevard looks as though it will be downgraded for much needed parking spaces. And, the vacant 96,000-square-foot Gulf front lots which have been used by Taylor Rental for a giant water slide and a volleyball court appear earmarked for another county park.