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Commission comes to a consensus for formula retail stores

By Staff | Jun 21, 2017

Two or less off-island stores, with the third store on Sanibel not classifying a business as formula retail and a trigger of a total of 60,000 square feet in formula retail were agreed upon. The Planning Commission also said a broader discussion of what the business community should look like, as well as how to go about putting information about starting a business on the city website needs to take place.

“We do need to have this serious conversation because it’s not just retail. There is a changing demographic on the island. There is a changing ratio of snowbirds to full-time residents. Summerlin (Road) is getting ready to explode in terms of new hotels and commercial space all the way from McGregor down to Winkler. It will be a million of new square feet of development on Summerlin itself,” Commissioner John Talmage said. “The pressures that we are going to face are going to be intense. We need to have a vision of where we want to go.”

Planning Director Jim Jordan said the discussion will continue about formula retail. He said he will bring back a recapture of the conversation and how they will move forward at an upcoming meeting.

After more than an hour long discussion, as well as hearing from the public, and the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, they decided to take a vote.

Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce President Ric Base said they talked a great deal about formula retail stores during their government affairs committee and board of directors meetings. He said they have not taken a firm position on it because they feel there are a number of moving parts.

“I think what the feeling was is we would be very happy with the number around three with retail, similar to restaurants with three, or less would not constitute formula retail,” Base said. “The main reason for that is we traditionally had startup businesses on Sanibel and we all know how difficult it is with startup businesses. Usually with someone with one, or two other businesses, they have a proven track record. It may give them easier access and a longer term process they can go through to get to where they are today and have more success when they come here.”

He said the feeling was that if there were two other stores, say at St. Armands Circle and the other in Naples, those are pretty good successes.

“I think the cost right now for a small retail store is kind of prohibitive. If you have four, five, or six stores, you are probably getting into a little bit more success,” Base said.

He further stated that if a business owner has two other properties off island, he does not think they need to put them through hurdles of spending $8,000 to $10,000 to do another traffic study, among other things.

“If I were to open a place up by myself and this is my first place, I wouldn’t have to do that,” Base said in terms of all the costs that goes into opening a business.

When asked about raising the trigger square footage to be further reviewed from 50,000 to 70,000, Base said they really did not have an opinion.

“I guess in my opinion, you guys handle it very well. Why do we need to have a second entity coming along and double checking your homework,” he said. “That’s silly.”

Base said Sanibel is just not attractive to formula retail because he feels the island’s seasonality scares them away. In addition, he said with there not being many chain stores on the island, it keeps the number of formula retail stores away because they tend to band together.

Talmage said he does not like the idea of a formula for formula retail.

He further stated that Downtown Fort Myers class A property is leasing for $12-$14 a square foot. On Sanibel, he said it is $35-$40 a square foot.

“The population demands on Lee County is going to be a look at 2 million square foot of new commercial space over the next 10 years,” Talmage said. “Not that we are going to get a lot of that here, or any of that here, but the pricing will go up. So, the commercial corporatization of our retail class is going to change.”

Base agreed with Talmage in stating that eventually they are going to price themselves out of the small business market.

“We are close to it today and we are on our way,” he said. “The small business person is going to suffer.”

Talmage said when the state passed its amendment on class sizes, it chased off all the employees who tried to work on Sanibel.

“There’s a real drag on small business investments, especially with those who live and work on the island, or live and own on the island. That number is going down. The total number of workforce employees, that number has dropped 30 percent,” he said.

Commissioner Karen Storjohann brought up the suggestion of putting a tab on the city’s website for businesses who wish to operate on the island. She said that business tab would open up to clear, easy access to all the information an individual may need to know – a glossary of terms, a flow chart – so they can be remote and get their feet wet.

“Because this has an implication in terms of development for the budget process, I think if we can say we think that’s an important thing, or we don’t think that’s an important thing, at least City Council could have that in their thought process with the budget process that is in the starting,” Storjohann said.

Chair Phillip Marks said he thought the idea was excellent for the front page of the city’s website.