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2015 holds numerous Cape projects

By Staff | Jan 2, 2015

The arrival of Sam’s Club on Pine Island Road and the promis of a Super Walmart and a Neighborhood Walmart store soon to follow paints Cape Coral in a very positive light as we head into 2015.

“Those are very good news,” said Economic Development Director Dana Brunett. “With those kinds of developments you can leverage a lot of other development in those areas.”

With the opening of a number of new stores and restaurants in 2014, Cape Coral is seeing more residential construction again.

“Another thing we’re seeing is a lot of our existing empty space has been absorbed this year by new businesses,” Brunett said. “The development volume is up tremendously. Some of the activity we’ve been missing out on in the past due to the downturn is now starting to move.”

The city also is receiving recognition in many ways, such as Forbes magazine, and Cape Coral is showing up in the top places to be/work/retire lists. A lot of new national franchises with new bricks and mortar came out of the ground in 2014.

“We had a glut of empty retail space,” said Chamber of Commerce President Mike Quaintance. “While it’s great to have those retail outlets those are not high-paying jobs. We can’t lose focus on encouraging technical and medical jobs because they tend to be higher wages.”

Michael Hollow of RE/MAX Realty Team said his office has experienced another record year.

“We do a good number of commercial transactions and those have increased along with the prices increasing,” Hollow said. “It definitely increased drastically. For anyone starting or bringing a business here this is a thriving economy for this area right now.”

Brunett also pointed to the Lafayette Street project being completed and continuing to work with the South Cape to get the streetscape program up and running all builds momentum.

“Pine Island Road is this city’s next true economic engine,” Brunett said. “The long-awaited widening project will help kickstart the west end.”

City Councilmember Jim Burch agrees with Brunett’s assessment of the Pine Island corridor.

“The Pine Island corridor will continue to develop,” Burch said. “It slowed down during the economic downturn and the widening of the road certainly helped. As the economy improves by all reports and facets I’ve seen it looks like the economic rebound is for real. It also incentivizes people to want to live in the north Cape, but then you get into the utilities expansion demands.”

While Culver’s and Starbucks recently opened new stores in the South Cape, a second Culver’s has been announced to locate in front of Sam’s Club next year.

Other projects breaking ground include expansion of the Publix Plaza at Hancock Bridge Parkway and Santa Barbara with a Popeye’s Chicken under construction.

“I’m pleased with the momentum we have experienced and we want to build on that momentum,” said Brunett. “The last two years we have worked to build the retail outlets because other businesses need those to live off of. Our numbers now are too big to ignore. Now we are going after the corporate and industrial interests, working together with the county and economic development. It bodes well for job creation.”

Brunett said he no longer is begging to talk to developers to entice them to consider Cape Coral. They are now seeking him out again as a place to be.

“I’ve met with developers from all across the country,” Brunett said. “And the good thing is our housing prices are still reasonable and affordable. It’s a refreshing sight to see new homes going up again.”

Hollow said, “Right now, the average waterfront home is going for $221,000. Two years ago it was $187,000. That’s about $40,000 in a short amount of time. We’ve rebounded very well and learned a lot. We’re fortunate that we are getting back to 2005 and hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes this time.”

While new construction is a good thing, it also could hold the city back somewhat.

“There are not enough workers for all the contractors and builders, especially the skilled trades,” said Brunett. “If we keep growing those will come back. I just don’t want development held up for a lack of skilled workers.”

“We’ve seen it before,” said Quaintance. “It could definitely be an issue but it will drive up competition for the skilled workers and that will drive up wages. That workforce is somewhat fluid. They tend to go where the work is, so it will swing back this direction.”

Burch thinks the trades shortage is more of a concern countywide, but not as much in single family construction.

“Single family and commercial are very different,” Burch said. “I don’t see too many problems with having enough trades people in single family. Having people to hire after the disaster is a good thing, but it still could become a big problem.”

Early in 2015, the city will get a feasibility report being undertaken by South Florida University on development at the Bimini Basin area that could be a boost to the southeast Cape.

Another development dream coming forward is from the South Florida Canoe/Kayak Club which has proposed a $23 million training and dormitory facility that could turn Cape Coral into a world-class Olympic training center.

Others include The Resort at Tranquility Lake, at Burnt Store Road and Durden Parkway.

The project is a “five-star, luxury resort for class A-motor coach owners. Sometimes called “condos on wheels,” the coaches range between $400,000 and $2.5 million.

Construction is expected to begin by the end of the new year.

Meanwhile, Lee Memorial Health System, has announced that it has acquired 5 acres at Veterans Parkway and Surfside for an outpatient medical facility that will include primary care providers, radiology, X-ray, breast cancer and lab draw services.

Ground breaking is expected next month, with a grand opening scheduled for August of 2015.

“By far, 2014 was the best year of the three years I’ve been here,” said Brunett. “It was a banner year and if things continue this way I’ll be saying it again next year. I’m not wishing for it to slow down, but in some ways the city is still catching up to all the activity, with the FSA (Fire Services Assessment) and employee shortages.”

While small businesses are the backbone of the economy, Quaintance calls for caution.

“The small business mom-and-pops are recovering, but we had a glut of people during the downturn get into business for the wrong reasons or with too little resources,” he said. “I think we will lose a few of those in 2015. For those that survive it will be easier for them to grow their businesses for the next couple of years.”