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Area leaders discuss bringing in business

By Staff | Mar 31, 2015

North Fort Myers has the luxury of being one of the few areas in Lee County that truly has a rural feel, which could be a way for it to define itself in terms of bringing in badly needed business.

That was one of many items discussed during last Tuesday’s North Fort Myers Town Hall meeting at the recreation center, which featured updates on the latest happenings in the area, as well as a round table discussion that centered on the lack business and the many empty storefronts it faces.

County Commissioner and lifelong Lee County resident Frank Mann was the keynote speaker for the three-hour event, discussing the long history of North Fort Myers and how it was all farmland until New 41 and the Caloosahatchee Bridge was built in the early ’60s.

He also discussed how I-75 took a lot of business away from that road 20 years later, just a few years after the legislature made U.S. 41 four lanes.

“It’s been a slower growth here than in the south, slower than many would like. We’ve been trying to get a fire lit here for a long time,” Mann said. “When the interstate came, all the money from restaurants and hotels shot past us and we went into hibernation.”

As for solutions on how to bring it north instead of into Estero and Bonita Springs, the answer will come from bringing in new residents that live in brick-and-mortor homes and not in mobile homes, as well as the construction of the rec center and soon-to-be-constructed library.

Another issue with North Fort Myers, according to Glen Salyer, economic development director of Lee County, is that it is perceived as distressed, with all the empty big box stores and strip malls, with Hancock Square now almost completely empty.

However, Salyer added there is a company looking into turning one of those empty stores into a customer service center.

“It’s a challenge in getting those strip malls going again and the big problem is the lack of traffic count,” Salyer said. “We’re trying to market Lee County to people who think it’s somewhere to go to retire.”

During the panel discussion, John Talmage, who owns several restaurants ompn Sanibel called North Fort Myers “the coolest part of Lee County” with its agricultural and rural feel as opposed to its urban and suburban counterparts.

“We can define ourselves through agriculture. There are small farms growing here,” Talmage said.

Patrick Crissy, a business consultant, said change is coming and that North Fort Myers needs to find something that will make people want to come and stay, much like a restaurant creates a signature dish.

“Whether companies come here depends on how we create a reason for them to come,” Crissy said. “Anything can happen if you make it happen.”

Talmage said something such as adding public access to the river, which North Fort Myers currently does not have, would go a long way toward sparking an interchange of money into the area.

Another issue is that Pine Island Road in Cape Coral has become the new business center, with Burnt Store Road being added in the near future, the panel agreed.

Also during the meeting, Michael Land, chairman of the North Fort Myers Community Planning Panel, one of five organizations hosting the meeting, presented awards to Majestic Enterprises on Old 41 as the redevelopment project of the year and Love’s Travel Stop on Bayshore Road as the new development of the year.

Land discussed some of the accomplishments made in the area over the past year, which included the expansion of Old 41, and Linda Yorde reported on the progress of the upcoming library.

There were also reports regarding code enforcement and community planning.

Land said he was very pleased by the way the blue-ribbon panel presented ideas and ways the area can market itself.

“They all had major contributions we should consider and the crowd was very involved,” Land said. “We want to keep this group together. We’re going to try to do one meeting a month and have a meeting of the minds and move forward with other sources and solve some of our problems.”

The North Fort Myers Community Planning Panel, North Fort Myers Design Review Committee, North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, North Fort Myers Civic Association and the New Business 41 merchants Association hosted the event.