The site formally known as Seafarer's Mall property is still in a holding pattern after Lee County Board of County Commissioners authorized its purchase (along with three Gulf front lots across the street that were successfully transformed into a beach park) nearly four years ago.
Plans for a public at-grade parking lot have been brought up and scrapped during that time period, while talks about development on that site have been ongoing.
On Tuesday, April 16, the County commissioners took a first step toward possible new site growth when it approved reimbursement of the $900,000 (cost for purchase of that property) to the Tourist Development Council's beaches and shoreline fund by applying general fund reserve dollars. This should allow something other than a projected parking lot for Crescent Beach Family Park to happen there.
The site formally known as Seafarer’s Mall now has artwork on the fencing, but it has been almost four years since property purchase authorization and nearly three years since the buildings were razed.
County officials are expected to touch on possible scenarios for future Seafarer development along with Estero Boulevard redevelopment during the Transportation CIP discussion at their May 6 management and planning meeting.
"By acknowledging that they have to have a future discussion and asking staff to put it on an agenda, this is moving forward," said Beach Mayor Alan Mandel. "That to me is a successful step. (The reimbursement) certainly clears up the ownership and any controversy over the use of TCD funds for that."
In the future, the mayor stated the Town's main goal is to encourage the development of a public/private partnership representing the highest and best use of the entire properties in the former Seafarer's area and to incorporate plans for improving traffic flow in the bottleneck portion of Estero Boulevard.
In the interim, Mandel would like to have Town staff work with County staff on an analysis regarding the feasibility of a Beach business employee parking lot during a proposed development goal period of three to five years.
"We need to find out the costs of converting what we have there now into an employee parking lot and see if it makes sense over a short period of time to do that," he said. "We also have to look at the impact of traffic flow with that employee parking lot there. It might be less than a regular parking lot where people are constantly going in and out."
On May 25, 2010, the BOCC authorized the purchase of the Seafarer's property at 1113 Estero Blvd. along with the three Gulf front lots for a total of $5.6 million. The closing was finalized on Sept. 15, 2010. The buildings on the site were razed in early July 2011.
Since then, residents and visitors to the island have more than noticed the vacantness.
"We have made little or no progress towards the ultimate goal of finding the best use for the property," said Mandel.
During public comment that occurred before the reimbursement decision April 16, Mandel made a request for the Town to take the lead in the site's future development. The commissioners did not grant that request.
"I think its something that we need to take responsibility for," said Commissioner Tammy Hall.
Commissioner Frank Mann, absent at the meeting had a memo read into the record.
"There has been no established point of contact from (County) staff that says what we would like to have happen on that property," he wrote. "I think it should be certainly part of the direction to staff at the end of all of this that either the board recognizes the town as a designated leader to work with the County or, more importantly, we make them an equal partner in any decision that goes on at that piece of property."
Reached the day after the BOCC meeting, Kiker echoed that sentiment.
"I think it should be an equal partnership," he said.
Kiker affirms the original reason why the property was purchased was for traffic mitigation.
"But, because the way it was financed originally, the county was handcuffed with what it could or could not do with that property," he said. "Since it was previously designated as a parking lot for Crescent Beach (Family) Park, nothing happened. Now, we have some latitude with what we can do with that property, instead of just watching it grow weeds."
Mandel would also be happy for the Town to share the lead. He hopes the County commissioners make a decision at their M&P meeting.
"Whether it comes back that we have the lead or a partnership in that project, it would be a tremendous step forward," he said.
Kiker said the Seafarer site discussion would be combined with a major discussion about Estero Boulevard. Now that the site is funded by general funds, there are more options.
"We need to look to see if we can use that property and surrounding properties for traffic relief," he said. "Hopefully, we can look to state and federal grants. We have opened up avenues to perhaps make better decisions. I think the right approach is to talk about Estero Boulevard and Seafarer's and decide what to do."
There are hopes that what has been called a "strategically important" property at the foot of Fort Myers Beach will solve more than just an aesthetic problem.
"It's an eyesore," said Kiker. "It's inevitable that something has to happen sooner than later."