Tom Torgerson has big plans for Fort Myers Beach.
But first he'll have to persuade the independently minded residents of the laid-back beach town that he should build a complex of four beachfront resorts totaling 562 hotel rooms and a 1,500-car parking garage at the base of the Fort Myers Beach bridge.
Torgerson, CEO and chairman of Minnesota-based TPI Hospitality, hinted at the challenges that lie ahead. “There's a huge cast of characters who live on that beach,” he says, describing the difficulty of assembling the land for the project called Grand Resorts Fort Myers Beach.
More than 150 beach “characters” showed up at a hearing recently with county and city government officials, many of them wearing shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts. The meeting drew such a big crowd it was held in an auditorium at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers. It started late because organizers had to bring extra chairs and some still had to stand for the three-hour hearing.
Torgerson, who recently became a resident of Fort Myers Beach, says development will reroute a perpetually clogged Estero Boulevard at the foot of the bridge with a roundabout that will speed motorists on their way. A 1,500-car parking garage will also alleviate a chronic parking shortage there.
The presentation drew gasps when Torgerson revealed the size of the project, which includes a 30,000-square-foot conference center and 10,000-square-foot spa and fitness center. Many in the crowd used cell phones to take photos of the renderings projected on screens around the auditorium.
Lee County Commission Chairman Frank Mann warned the audience to restrain themselves. “No rocks thrown in here today,” he pleaded. “This is going to be a learning experience.”