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Seafarer's: County seeks ideas

February 14, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Who has an idea for what to do with the former Seafarer's property?

The county's taking suggestions.

Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer gave the Fort Myers Beach Town Council an update on county projects Thursday, and included in his report was an update on Seafarer's: there is no update.

"We don't have any plans for it," Meurer said after Council Member Bruce Butcher asked for an update.

Lee County has owned the Seafarer's property, which lays between the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Helmrich Plaza, since Sept. 2010. It purchased this property for $5.6 million, and also bought what's now Crescent Beach Park, after Hurricane Charley hit the buildings on those properties. The Seafarer's property is about .72 acres.

In 2011, the county razed the buildings left on the property.

Since then, the property has sat vacant - mostly. For the last two years, this prime real estate location has been home to the county's construction equipment as it works on the Estero Boulevard project.

It's also been a major complaint from residents and town council members alike: what's going to happen and when will the construction equipment be gone.

In 2017, town council candidates had to face questions from the citizens about what was going to happen: now-council member Anita Cereceda said "our front door looks derelict;" then-candidate Butch Crister said he didn't like what he saw when he crossed the bridge.

Similar comments have come to the council in emails, phone calls and public comments.

TPI Hospitality's original Times Square Resort plan included an option to do a "land swap" with the county, trading its Ocean Jewel property (now the Chamber) for Seafarer's; however, the county was using the site at the time and did not engage, so the project was redesigned without Seafarer's.

In January, Meurer said the county would be done with Seafarer's by June, and was looking for ideas from the town.

"We've always said we need the council as a majority to tell the county we'd like for you to do something with that," said District 3 Commissioner, Larry Kiker. "We need a place to begin and it starts with the council at Fort Myers Beach to give us the thumbs up."

Kiker has suggested in the past, and reiterated during a recent phone interview, that the county isn't necessarily opposed to considering a land swap with TPI.

But for TPI, that ship has probably sailed.

Tom Torgerson, TPI's chairman, and John Gucciardo, TPI's consultant, spoke to the Beach Area Civic Association at its Feb. 6 meeting.

Dave Anderson, a BACA board member, asked if TPI would consider working with the county "down the road."

"Our application is based on acreage. We already have a plan for Ocean Jewel," Gucciardo said. "We think it was a lost opportunity."

Torgerson said the situation was a "three-legged stool" between TPI, the town and the county, and that the three parties never were able to come to the same table.

"They didn't do anything wrong," he said.

It would be wishful thinking to consider a change to the plan, because the plan can't be changed at this stage without having to go back through the entire application process.

"We're hoping our project will light a fire to do something with Seafarer's," Gucciardo said.

The county has some options. It could declare the Seafarer's land as surplus and auction it off. According to the Lee County Property Appraiser's assessment, the land is now valued at $950,220, as of July 2017.

The county can also construct something there that would serve a public purpose, such as a park, traffic mitigator, or parking facility.

Kiker said the time is now for the county and town to move forward on Seafarer's - sooner rather than later.

"It's time to have a conversation of what we need to do," he said. "It represents our only and last chance to do something spectacular that the county can bring to bear."

But with both the TPI application and the San Carlos Boulevard road study on track for the public process, now may too late.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said the town council needs to talk about what it might like to see at Seafarer's as a preferred use. That kind of talk could be a ways off.

"I think if the town could formulate a strong recommendation, it would get a serious consideration," he said. "But, some things need to settle out. San Carlos Boulevard, TPI, once those things happen the town can say okay, here's what we recommend."

Kiker said he'd hate to see a "huge opportunity" get passed on, but that it might be too late by now. Usually, someone already has a project in mind, plans it and then shows the public for their consideration, Kiker said. In this scenario, the county's starting with nothing and seeking good suggestions.

"We all need to be grown-ups and talk about what should happen here," he said. "Truly, what does everyone want to happen?"



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