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Office Depot in North Fort Myers slated to close Feb. 1

By Staff | Dec 23, 2013

The Office Depot at Hancock Bridge Parkway and U.S. 41 in North Fort Myers will close effective Feb. 1 2014, an official with the office supply store chain said, dealing another blow to a reeling shopping center already suffering from empty space.

Rebecca Rakitin, Office Depot communications manager, said the chain consistently evaluates the performance of their stores.

“Some close, some stay open. There isn’t much detail I can give you,” Rakitin said.

Office Depot merged with Office Max in February, though Rakitin said that wasn’t the reason for the closure.

Local representatives of the store would not comment, as per company policy. Office Depot has been one of the anchor stores at the 135,272-square-foot Hancock Bridge Square shopping center, which opened in 1984, but for years has become more desolate.

After Feb. 1, the only stores there will be a Subway, Laundromat, a sewing boutique, hair solon, quilt shop and cosmetology school.

Tom Strauss, senior director of retail services for Land-Qwest, the commercial agency leasing the stores, said the loss of an anchor is always a blow.

“Whenever you lose a junior anchor tenant it hurts. It’s part of the shopping center business, they come and they go,” Strauss said. “You work on re-tenanting and remarketing the center.”

According to online commercial real estate website Loopnet.com, the 14.6-acre center, which recently went under new ownership, is currently 40 percent occupied. It consists of 84,254 square feet boxed space and 51,018 square feet of in-line retail. Market occupancy for competing anchored centers is greater than 85 percent.

Strauss said getting new tenants has been a struggle, and the economy has had a lot to do with it. But its location is the major strength of the center.

Hancock Bridge Square is the closest major shopping center to downtown Fort Myers, and benefits from traffic flow in excess of 40,000 trips per day at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Hancock Bridge Parkway.

It is also on the homebound side for commuters returning to North Fort Myers and Cape Coral from work.

“I think the economy is getting better. We’ve seen an increase in people leasing spaces,” Strauss said. “This center is still in a good location with a traffic light, so it’s still good space.”

An employee at Office Depot, who declined to be identified, said there was also speculation that the store was closing because of long-since-withdrawn plans to extend Hancock Bridge Parkway that would likely cut through the shopping center.

Untrue, said Lee County spokesperson Betsy Clayton.

Lee DOT did a study in 2008 that looked at extending Hancock Bridge Parkway; widening Pondella was what was shown as a need in the long range transportation plan.

In 2008, the Le eDOT conducted a study for the proposed extension of the road in North Fort Myers from U.S. 41 to Business 41 as an alternative to widening Pondella Road to six lanes.

“The conclusion was to widen Pondella due to right-of-way cost, extending Hancock had a much higher cost, and based on public input/social impacts,” Clayton said in an e-mail. “Residents of the neighborhood east of the shopping center did not want to be displaced or have a major road through their neighborhood.”

Clayton added the “North Fort Myers Planning Panel felt a roadway designed to help alleviate traffic congestion was not conducive to the type of community plan they envisioned.”

The plan was abandoned.