After almost two years of back-and-forth, TPI Hospitality officially submitted its application to Fort Myers Beach - and it was accepted as complete.
It's the second time TPI has attempted to submit, the first being rejected in December as incomplete. At the time, TPI was hoping to have the county enter on the application so it could discuss a land swap, but Lee County declined.
Now, the project is completely contained on its own property. The application, received March 30, will go through town staff and the Local Planning Agency before the Town Council makes a decision.
Points of Interest
1. Redesigned resort hotel with 262 rooms; 2. Arcade and conference room; 3. Hotel retail shop in renovated Ocean Jewel building; 4. Lee County's Seafarer's property removed from TPI plans;
5. Bar/restaurant with 30 hotel rooms on upper floor;
6. Beach club and re-directed Canal Street with town-controlled paid parking
Renderings courtesy of TPI Hospitality
TPI's Tom Torgerson started his journey to redevelop the Heimrich Plaza and the area across the street in 2015, when he unveiled plans for a much larger, more expansive project: Grand Resorts. The original plan was met with so much opposition, Torgerson did not make application and retreated.
Since last year, Torgerson has gathered a focus group to come up with a plan for redevelopment more palatable to the town. His project has now gone through multiple redesigns, but the latest included in the application could be the winner.
"We want to go forward with this," said John Gucciardo, the former deputy town manager who has become the spokesman for Torgerson's project.
TPI is still asking for a deviation: to use measures for intensity, rather than density, to calculate the number of hotel rooms allowed. Density is typically used in residential development zoning. Gucciardo said the argument for the intensity method, which delineates how many square feet of a property can be used, should be used because the project is commercial in nature, not residential. TPI would ask that the square footage be calculated and a percentage of that be dedicated to hotel rooms - about 292 in total, still down from the December 2016 plan of about 330.
"There may be more than people will be comfortable with," Gucciardo said. "People aren't used to the process."
There hasn't been a commercial planned development project like this submitted to the town in years.
There are a few new ideas in this latest redesign.
Since the county declined a land swap that would trade TPI's land at the base of the bridge for Seafarer's at the start of Estero Boulevard, TPI is maximizing what space it does control. The corner parking lot next to the Lighthouse Inn is slated for a two-story building connected to the main hotel by a pedestrian overpass. The ground level will serve as parking for the first-floor arcade and the second-floor conference and meeting center.
Gucciardo said the upscale arcade would be comparable to a Dave and Busters, geared toward a family-friendly audience, and accessible to the public and an amenity for the hotel.
The hotel's room count is down: the V-shaped, three-story resort with ground-level parking would be home to about 262 rooms, a tiki bar, and a revamped Ocean Jewel to hold a hotel-oriented retail shop.
With Seafarer's out of the picture, most of the resort complex is set back from Estero Boulevard.
Another pedestrian walkway, available to the public, connects the resort to a bar and restaurant next to Salty Crab. This building will also hold about 30 additional hotel rooms on the top floor.
The location of the rooms might be awkward - it's a hike from the hotel lobby at 5th and Crescent to the beachfront side - but Gucciardo said he predicts those rooms would be the most in-demand due to their proximity to the beach.
Next to the bar restaurant, the beach club geared for adults is still in place, featuring a lazy river, its own bar and food service, and pool area. In previous plans, the beach club was independent from the hotel. Now, it is an amenity of the hotel, but the public is still invited for a price.
The overpasses will require a right-of-way permit from the county on Estero Boulevard and from the town on 5th Street.
Ocean Jewel, the run-down building at the base of the bridge, would be rehabilitated using the town's 50 percent rule, allowing it to stay at ground-level instead of being elevated to the current floodplain regulation.
Now, the fate of the application lies with the town.
The county's involvement will be minimal now, as TPI's project remains within its own property lines. At the March 20 Estero Island Taxpayers Association meeting, Commissioner Larry Kiker said conversation with TPI about a potential land swap wasn't necessarily a "closed door," but Gucciardo said Torgerson is moving ahead with the current, filed application and its site plan.
"This works, and if it makes the town and council happy, we don't need Seafarer's," Gucciardo said.