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SE 47th Terrace Streetscape plan meets resistance

By Staff | Sep 28, 2017

One business owner said the new Southeast 47th Terrace streetscape project would force her out of business.

Another said the multi- million project should be done in the same concept as another street two blocks to the south.

A third said things that cannot be repeated here.

On Tuesday night, at the public meeting for the improvement plan, numerous stakeholders voiced their opposition to the concept as presented, citing in particular the elimination of on-street parking.

While many business owners decry the $13 million project as a potential death knell to their businesses due to the planned removal of the parking in front of their buildings, Community Redevelopment Agency and city officials say the main idea is to bring people to the South Cape district, which will enhance business, and that other parking options are available.

Kerri Krieg, who with her husband owns Merrick’s Seafood, which also features a carry-out business, and the Fish Tale Grill, said she has been led to believe there would be one side of the road left for on-street parking.

“We were completely blindsided that they took all 119 spots. There was no explanation, it was just a blatant disregard for our thoughts,” Krieg said. “We’ll go out of business if we don’t have those spots. My customers have said they will not walk a half-mile or so from Club Square to get fish.”

City Councilmember Richard Leon said the notion of businesses shuttering is more fear than reality, especially when you look at downtown Fort Myers and Punta Gorda.

“This project will not put anyone out of business. We’re enhancing an area to make it more walkable. If anything, it will allow the ability to get more business,” said Leon, who as a council member also is a CRA board member. “We’re going to lose spacing, but you’ll have people being able to walk between businesses and have that South Cape feel.”

Bill Corbett, city traffic engineer, said City Manager John Szerlag has instructed him to meet with business owners to address their concerns and where the parking balance will be in the end, adding that on-street parking was always a non-starter with this project.

“The options aren’t limited to Club Square. That was a misunderstanding. The ones we’ve identified are in the proximity of Club Square, but we’re evaluating the entire corridor to balance out what we’ve lost,” Corbett said.

“The removal of on-street parking has been in the plans since conception, including presentations at CRA advisory and board meetings and the first public open house,” Corbett said.

Elmer Tabor, owner of Big John Plaza and one of the founding fathers of the city, asked if his words could be bleeped out following a “rampage” at a Rotary Club meeting Wednesday.

“When I got done with my rampage I told someone ‘Other than that, I don’t have a (expletive) opinion,'” Tabor said. “I was irritated.”

Tabor said SCHEA, the South Cape Hospitality and Entertainment Association, invited the consultants and the city engineers to show their pictures, which glossed over the parking issue and traffic issues concerning the proposed roundabout on 47th Terrace and Vincennes.

“We just about laughed because 47th Terrace has a big problem with traffic. I asked the consultant for the parking study they did. They said they hadn’t done one,” Tabor said. “When a roundabout issue came about, I asked for a traffic study. They said they didn’t have one. I was blown away they hadn’t done that before the showed their pretty pictures.”

Ed Ramos, who owns Ramos Builders, said he has always supported the project, but not the way it was presented Tuesday.

“We wanted it to be modelled after Lafayette Street. That design works. They have streetscape components but preserved the on-street parking spaces. We need parking on 47th Terrace. To totally eliminate it without addressing parking is not prudent,” Ramos said.

Ramos added the final concept did not go in front of the CRA advisory board, and he didn’t believe the CRA commission (also the city council) had seen it either, even though it’s 90 percent complete.

Stephanie Smith, design and construction manager for the city, said such an idea would not be in the cards.

“This project has been in the works since the beginning of the year. It’s been to meetings and it’s been the plan shown all along,” Smith said. “All the businesses were invited to those meetings, so we would have hoped they were involved.”

The project, as designed now, will eliminate on-street parking and replace it with additional parking at Club Square. It will have a widened pedestrian area to encourage walking while narrowing the actual street in half to slow down traffic along with the roundabout on 47th and Vincennes.

The cost of the project as increased since conception. Starting at $8.5 million, the project is expected to cost $13 million today.

City officials still believe the streetscape project is worth it. CRA commissioner and Councilmember Rick Williams said any time there’s construction there will be upheaval and any time they do something that looks nice, there will be inconvenience.

“There were some businesses that were outspoken, but there were a lot that were not. I feel for the people who have problems, but in order to progress there has to be an inconvenience. We, as a city, have to mitigate it as much as possible,” Williams said.

Williams said the difference between Lafayette and Southeast 47th Terrace is that Southeast 47th is much busier. By eliminating the on-street parking it will also eliminate people dashing out from behind parked cars.

Williams added there are parking alternatives that are not too far away.

“The next block north, 47th Street is all on-street parking and just one block away, and not a lot of people are parked there,” Williams said. “That’s parking nobody is taking into account.”

Smith said there is no net loss in parking in the plan, that they are working at finding additional parking, which has always been the intent.

But where?

“We’re still working on a plan. Our instruction from the city manager was to come up with the parking spaces on street and replace them to where they are accessible,” Smith said. “We recognize their concerns. We just can’t identify where. Once we finish we’ll have them identified.”

Smith said the business owners were mistakenly under the impression they were not replacing those spots.

The streetscape plan is expected to go to city council by the end of the year. From there, it will take 9 months to a year for completion.