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Current Grand Resorts concept falls to the wayside

By Staff | Apr 12, 2016

It’s back to the drawing board for Tom Torgerson, who on Tuesday said he is pulling the plug on his intent to file an application with the town of Fort Myers Beach for the construction of the current form of his $250 million Grand Resorts project.

Here are his words:

“(Partner) John (Dammermann) and I will not come forward with an application representative of our last concept, and we do not have a timeline for developing a new concept. However, we remain hopeful that a new concept will ultimately be supported by the town while being financially viable for us. There are significant challenges with developing a new concept, it will take some time to do so. Whatever we do ultimately put forth most likely will not involve Crescent Beach Park nor re-routing of Estero Boulevard nor include a conference center.

“We do feel that what the downtown core district needs to enhance its vitality are lodging units versus more retail, restaurants, bars and T-shirt shops. High-quality lodging units that have strong national/international marketing infrastructure will improve business for this core district year round and especially out of season, when they most need it. Lodging units also represent a type of use that is least impactful to traffic. We will likely compliment the lodging usage with some public parking and scaled back on site food and beverage. We will also likely propose something that can be enhanced by the coastal protection system (CPS) but isn’t dependent upon it. We may likely put forward the CPS for the town’s and county’s consideration as a means to save the downtown core districts pedestrian grade level desires so consistently stated in the comprehensive plan. The public can decide if it is worthy or not to implement. We have spent around $250,000 solely toward developing the CPS and will likely donate that information for public consideration.

“We have minimal regrets as we reflect back upon the previous redevelopment concept and public process. We actually envision that the future process will benefit tremendously from our having engaged public input the past six months. In the end, we have a strong desire to help unite the community during the future process avoiding divisiveness.”

The plan, first unveiled Nov. 30, featured among its amenities four hotels consisting of more than 550 rooms, a pedestrian mall, a four-level parking garage, a roundabout and a 2,000-foot boardwalk complete with seawall. Torgerson projected it would create more than 500 new jobs and bring in $1.6 billion within the first 10 years.

It then went through several changes between then and its final form that Torgerson shared with residents in late February – mainly an adjustment in architecture, transitioning from an urban look to an old-Florida look, and a scaling back from eight stories to six the height of his proposed Hilton Hotel (which had a ground-level floor dedicated to commercial space).

Many argued the density of the project and its height still were non-compliant with the town’s comprehensive plan, which limits new construction to four floors..

Meanwhile, over the past year he spent nearly $40 million in property acquisition in the downtown area, needing only the Lee County-owned Crescent Beach Family Park and vacant Seafarer’s Plaza to complete his footprint.

Torgerson held three public outreach meetings on Fort Myers Beach, each time receiving plenty of skepticism from residents.

Resident Jay Light attended them all and was a vocal opponent of the plan.

“It was the fact he came in with a whole team and a public relations person that scared the hell out of some people,” said Light. “If he comes back with a proposal that is compliant, I will be his biggest supporter.”

Council member Tracey Gore, who fought against the Grand Resorts concept during her recent election campaign, said the town deserved credit for its defiance.

“I do think the community united to protect the codes and vision we set out to establish,” she said of the regulations established at the town’s inception in 1995. “He did a good job of presenting his vision to us, but it wasn’t what Fort Myers Beach wanted. I think he finally recognized that. He finally heard us.”

Mayor Dennis Boback, who also publicly opposed Grand Resorts during his campaign, feels the March 15 election played a role in Torgerson’s decision.

“The landscape has changed since the election,” Boback said. “Maybe he’ll wait until next year’s election (when three council seats will be available) to bring it back.”

He also feels Torgerson realized that obtaining Crescent Beach Family Park was going to be tough.

“Without that, he doesn’t have the room to do what he wants to do,” Boback said. “Hopefully, he’ll come up with something that can benefit both himself and the town.”

Council member Anita Cereceda, who was mayor when the town was established and also again when Torgerson first came forward with his plan, expressed disappointment. She felt his concept would help address the island’s traffic gridlock.

“Since the inception of this town, during our comprehensive plan process and every subsequent community-visioning session, this community has looked for a way to realign Estero Boulevard to create a better flow of traffic on and off the island by removing the bulk of pedestrian activity,” she said. “It is my greatest hope that we will look forward, beyond where we are now or where we have been in the past, and work toward accomplishing a viable and beautiful entrance to our island and downtown.

“Our ability to work together to formulate the best plan possible for the future of this town will be the legacy that this council leaves for future generations.”