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Could a concert stage bring TDC dollars to Times Square?

Struggles with project acceptance continue for town

April 8, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach has about $1.2 million hanging out there in open purchase orders through Lee County's Tourist Development Council (TDC). However, the challenge for getting the town's desired projects accepted remains.

The problem has become a frustration to the point that the town is inviting a TDC representative to attend an upcoming Town Council meeting to help walk them through the application process.

Council member Summer Stockton on April 4 voiced her frustration with data showing other county municipalities like Sanibel and Fort Myers are receiving more TDC money.

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The town wants some cosmetic improvements for Times Square, but Lee County's Tourist Development Council is resisting.

"We bring in the tourists," she said, and subsequently the bed-tax dollars the county collects.

The staff and council noted the high-rate of rejection comes mostly from having its requests not effectively presented. And for years, ideas from staff have received even local opposition before going to application.

Council member Tracey Gore said she spoke with a TDC representative, who told her "Fort Myers Beach is a hot mess" when it comes to TDC applications, noting requests weren't specific.

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The most recent request to be shot down are cosmetic improvements to Times Square, which would include new lit-up and electronic crosswalks, light poles that can support banners, landscaping and pavers. Public works also hopes to replace and re-route a water line in conjunction with any improvements. The project price is an estimated $750,000.

However, the TDC attorney said the area is a pedestrian plaza and doesn't qualify as a beachfront or bay-front improvement. In the past, Times Square has received TDC support, the council has argued, because it provides the only access to the public pier.

Now, the town is considering a new "marketing and attraction" application process that opens April 20. Basically, the town will be going after a different pot of money by adding to the mix its desire to request creation of a permanent raised concrete entertainment stage. It would sit at the location of the current collapsable stage that is home to the Friday-night "Sunset Celebration" shows.

It would also help alleviate the headaches and costs that Times Square merchants are voicing regarding stage set-up and breakdown.

The stage is property of the town, and Gore argued it should be moved to the Bay Oaks Recreation Campus as a means to increase interest through the hosting of shows. Times Square is overly crowded as it is, she added.

Council member Rexann Hosafros disagreed.

"If I was a performer, I wouldn't want it at Bay Oaks because no one would come," she said.

Without an element showcasing an attraction, Hosafros called any attempt for TDC dollars for Times Square as "futile."

Stage or no stage, public works director Scott Baker feels Times Square's value should stand on its own.

"I consider Times Square one of the best tourist destinations in the state," he said. "And they still turn us down."

Also recently shot down by the TDC attorney was a request to replace the dock at Hurcules Drive, for $95,000, that the town tore down last summer due to what it determined as a danger. The county said a lack of public parking - a TDC requirement - made it ineligible.

As for the town's large sum of TDC dollars that need reallocation, about $120,000 comes from it changing its mind last year about installing portable public bathrooms at beach accesses.

What the town can most likely rely upon this year is its request for $850,000 in TDC funds for basic maintenance at its beachfront and bay-front accesses.



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