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Big crowd, big reaction for Grand Resorts

Audience offers up some boos during presentation

December 15, 2015
By John Morton - Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

If developers of Grand Resorts were having trouble gauging the level of interest among local residents, they need not wonder now.

Making their first presentation on the island Monday, they faced a standing-room-only crowd of roughly 500, far exceeding the posted 260 capacity, at the Chapel of the Sea's Silver Hall. With it came a handful of protest signs and even boos and jeers while several concept renderings were displayed of the proposed $250 million proposal that would bring four hotels, a pedestrian mall, a four-story parking garage featuring 1,500 stalls and seven elevators, a half-mile boardwalk and seawall, and a roundabout to the downtown's beachfront.

"We respect all of you - please be respectful of us," said developer Tom Torgerson, who after his presentation joined his consulting team, including investment partner John Dammermann, at several project-related stations to interact with the throng of curious residents.

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Don Reagan of Fort Myers Beach demonsrates his objection with the Grand Resorts project while outside Monday's public meeting.

Both Torgerson and Dammermann are recent residents of Fort Myers Beach.

"The more we meet and talk, the better the project gets in regard to tweaking and massaging things," said Torgerson, who promised at least two more similar presentations. "We want your input."

His group hopes to begin seawall construction as early as next fall with building construction to begin in 2017.

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Both the Town of Fort Myers and Lee County must approve the plan, each governing bodies requiring two public hearings, and Torgerson insisted no negotiations have begun.

"Our talks have only been conceptual," said Torgerson.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda and county commission chairman Larry Kiker, also the town's former mayor, are both on the record saying the same.

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Torgerson addressed the plan's busy 10-acre footprint in saying, "There's actually a lot of circulation space, a lot of open space. But yes, there are several buildings are they are the locomotives that finance the project."

Furthermore, his team noted how welcome the promised 30,000-square-foot convention center that anchors the pedestrian mall would be.

"We could have used some of that space tonight," said spokeswoman Tina Matte to the tightly packed crowd.

Torgerson has purchased several downtown properties, including the beachfront Salty Crab and Pierview Hotel, and on Monday announced two more parcels would soon be his - a 64-stall surface lot that used to serve the former Top O' Mast lounge at 1028 Estero Blvd. and the Ocean Jewels property at 237 Old San Carlos Blvd., adjacent to the proposed roundabout area near the base of the Sky Bridge.

"The man is going to develop something - that's the reality of it," said Kiker. "What we have is both an opportunity on one side and some controversy on the other. We have to bring the two together."

The plan would also require that Torgerson acquire the Crescent Beach Family Park from Lee County, which took ownership of the parcel after Hurricane Charley in 2004 destroyed the hotel that occupied the site.

That doesn't sit well with Beach resident Don Reagan, who toted protest signs to the meeting.

"I'm fine with development, but only of private land," he said. "It's a bad sign for the future to give away land on the Gulf of Mexico. Think of the value of that land 20 years from now."

Meanwhile, resident Carol Phillips thinks it's too big of a project.

"If the developer likes it so much here, like he says he does, perhaps he should leave things alone," she said. "If I wanted to live in Fort Lauderdale I would. The density of this is far too much for that area."

Local resident Fred Murphy said he was in favor of the plan.

"I'm all for it. Everything in that area needs to be redone or modernized before those buildings fall down," he said.

And beach resident Kirk Whitacre said he was swayed by Monday's presentation.

"It's an impressive plan. It's well thought out," he said. "At first I was against it but now I'm leaning toward it. That area needs to be addressed and the traffic is already bad. Nothing can make it worse."

Added his wife, Kathy Whitacre, "They said they'll protect the sea turtles. As long as they do that, I'm OK with it."



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