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Chase Bank branch looking at Cape’s downtown

By Staff | Nov 16, 2011

Lee Mahatzke opened Bahama Mamma’s on Southeast 47th Terrace 18 months ago, repurposing an old bank teller drive thru into an open air tiki bar serving food and drinks.

Mahatzke sunk $130,000 into the venture, he said, and received $21,100 in return from the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency’s governing board via their facade grant policy, which rewards businesses for sprucing up their exteriors throughout the district.

Business has not been great during the last 18 months, Mahatzke added, but it’s been steady enough to keep the doors open, the beer flowing and the cheeseburgers sizzling on the grill.

Now, Bahama Mamma’s might be torn down in favor of a new Chase Bank, which is being eyed for the corner of Cape Coral Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard.

Should the bank be built, Bahama Mamma’s would become a storm water retention site.

“I want to know what my options are,” Mahatzke said. “Right now, I don’t see too many.”

Documentation shows that three buildings, including Bahama Mamma’s, would ultimately be torn down if the project goes through, .

The building to the east of Bahama Mamma’s would be gone, too, but that building is currently unoccupied. The building to the south of Bahama Mamma’s, which fronts Cape Coral Parkway, houses Marc Jacobs Realty and would be razed in favor of the new bank.

Another building, which houses Gulf Coast Readers, a telemarketing agency that employs 150 people, is also included in the overall plans but for now will remain standing and the jobs will stay in place.

Neither Lee Mahatzke, or Marc Joseph of Marc Joseph Realty Inc., said they received any word of pending changes.

Joseph, who has been at that location for three years, said he heard “through the grapevine” that change could be on its way and has already began moving operations to an office at Hancock Bridge Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard.

Joseph thinks the CRA is suffering an identity crisis, adding that bringing in a bank to a corner where two already sit is a bad idea. Banks currently operate on the northwest and southeast corners.

“A hotel, retail or shopping center makes more sense for that corner,” Joseph said. “You need something that draws people, something that draws pedestrian foot traffic. You’re not going to get any of that with a bank there.”

CRA Executive Director John Jacobsen said he felt the corner is a good location for another bank, though vehicle traffic at the corner did not make it ideal for pedestrian foot traffic.

Jacobsen said the facade grant paid to Mahatzke carried with it a lien put on the property. The property’s owner, according to the Lee County Property Appraiser, Cape Promenade Trust, will have to pay back the lien on a prorated basis.

Jacobsen acknowledged the bank project, should it be approved, would be “hard on the little guy”.

“We’ll do everything to help them to find an alternate location and keep this business in the CRA,” Jacobsen said of Bahama Mamma’s.

David Depew, from Morris-Depew, the project’s consulting firm, said the process was “just beginning” and would likely begin the PDP or planned development project process in January 2012.

Depew said the building that currently houses the Gulf Coast Readers call center would receive a “significant upgrade” during the project’s second phase, but he also said the building was currently unoccuppied even though it employs 150 people.

“We’re going to improve what’s looking on that corner,” Depew told the CRA board Tuesday night.

Though excited by the bank, CRA Board member Frank Dethlefsen said he would like to see Mahatzke’s restaurant and bar, or other mixed uses, included in the overall plans.

Dethelefsen said the CRA is charged with encouraging an environment in the district that caters to more than banking interests.

“I’m concerned about the person already doing business there,” Dethlefsen said. “We have no urban lifestyle uses on this corner (in the plans) and I’d like to see them (Chase) take a step in the right direction toward an urban lifestyle.”

Longtime business man and former CRA board member Bennett Agranove said he approved of the new Chase Bank on the corner because it’s better than what sits there now, a parking lot.

Bennett owns Carriage Cleaners, which would be the bank’s neighbor, if built.

“I’d like to see anything on that corner except an empty lot. It’s the entrance to the city,” Agranove said.

Lee Mahatzke said he’s looking to get his investment refunded to him in some way, giving him the opportunity to recoup expenses.

Mahatzke also owns a Bahama Breeze location in Bonita Springs and came to Cape Coral, specifically the former drive thru, because it afforded him the chance to serve food in an outdoor setting.

Mahatzke also thinks business will pick up as the snowbirds start to return.

“The timing of this is bad,” he said, adding, “I can’t move to another location.”

Chase Bank has recently opened locations in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, at Cape Coral Parkway West and Chiquita Boulevard.