County votes to raze Seafarer’s building on Fort Myers Beach
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners gave final direction regarding the county-owned structure on the Seafarer’s Village property on Fort Myers Beach at Tuesday’s meeting in downtown Fort Myers.
The BOCC approved to have the building on the property demolished in the near future, despite a request from Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker and Town Attorney Jim Humphrey to transfer of it to the town so that town officials could have control of the property.
“We can’t just transfer ownership of the Seafarer’s Village site to the town because that is TDC (Tourist Development Council) money that bought the property,” said Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah. “The intent of the property is to tear down the building and make it available as at-grade parking to enhance public access to the beach.”
Before the decision, Kiker presented the request by saying the county and town agree on the intent (demolition, parking) of the property, but not on the focus to alleviate traffic pressure on Estero Boulevard.
“We need to have control of traffic, planning and design to improve the situation and improve the access and desirability of that usage,” he said. “We just need to recognize and agree that the objectives that we all have and share together that continues to be expressed by the Town of Fort Myers Beach, which is the No. 1 priority for the past 15 years of our existence, is to fix Estero Boulevard, perhaps the most congested roadway per square foot in Lee County. It can enhance the visitation of tourists in the community at large.”
Judah did agree with the town officials’ attempted accomplishments for the foreseeable future. He said county and town officials are working towards goals for the Master Plan of the boulevard.
“In the long run, this is a golden opportunity for improving the traffic flow and eliminating the bottleneck of congestion of this section of Estero Boulevard,” said Judah. “At some point in time, we hope we will have the money to be able to relocate utilities on that property and obtain the plaza behind the Seafarer’s property.”
For weeks, county officials have expressed a desire to have the Seafarer’s building demolished due to its state as a “dormant and dilapidated safety hazard liability.” But, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council, which has been in negotiations with county officials to acquire the property, has been steadfast in wanting input into the decision-making process before a demolition took place.
On May 25, 2010, the BOCC authorized the purchase of the Seafarer’s property along with three Gulf front lots across the street (which are currently being transformed into a beach park) for a total of $5.6 million. The Seafarer’s property cost $980,000. The closing was finalized on Sept. 15, 2010.
At the Friday, April 8, TDC meeting, Kiker, serving as the town’s designated point person of the negotiations, reiterated his council’s acquisition standpoint before attending the BOCC meeting for a final presentation.
“We have asked (county officials) to turn the building over to us,” Kiker said after the session. “This has turned into a TDC-regulated project, and we are trying to get the county to focus on traffic on Estero Boulevard again.”
Kiker’s frustration seems to be reaching a boiling point. He said his 1-1/2 hour presentation/Q&A session with TDC and county officials fell on deaf ears. All along, the council has stated that the property should be included somehow into the re-configuration of Estero Boulevard in helping alleviate traffic congestion on the Beach’s main drag,
“They want to make a Beach park and a parking lot for the beach, and that’s all they are talking about,” the Beach mayor said. “They are not talking about Estero Boulevard or doing anything about it whatsoever. We are trying to get them to focus on that. They are not.”
On March 28, Beach Council members held a special meeting and discussed the Seafarer’s building in general, how the property could help solve traffic congestion, the amount of parking that could be utilized on it if the building was demolished and the length of permitting time a particular lot would need to begin construction.
During the discussion, the elected town officials said that, if the building were to be razed, they would prefer more than just a ground-level parking lot.
“One row of parking seems like a poor trade off of our tax dollars,” said Councilwoman Jo List, who resides in that neighborhood.
“I would like to see two to three levels of parking,” added Vice Mayor Bob Raymond, who possesses a real estate background.
County officials have stated they would be interested in shared revenues with the town or an escrow account that leads to town ownership if the building were to be razed and the property would be turned into a parking lot.