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Beach renourishment

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  • | 11:53 p.m. January 1, 2016
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TPI Hospitality

Why 2016 is important: A proposed four-hotel development could transform downtown Fort Myers Beach.

The last time a developer tried to build a large development on Fort Myers Beach, the town's citizens voted to incorporate into a municipality.

The citizens' power grab away from Lee County happened 20 years ago, but echoes of that anti-development sentiment resurfaced as developer Tom Torgerson, chairman and CEO of Minnesota-based TPI Hospitality, proposed an ambitious redevelopment plan at the entrance to downtown Fort Myers Beach.

A recent resident of Fort Myers Beach, Torgerson is proposing to realign the perpetually congested Estero Boulevard through a 1,500-car parking garage that would feed four beachfront hotels totaling 562 rooms. In addition, he's proposing a 30,000-square-foot conference center, a 10,000-square-foot spa, a half-mile public boardwalk and a pedestrian mall lined with shops and restaurants in the heart of downtown Fort Myers Beach.

The project called Grand Resorts - Fort Myers Beach promises to transform the entrance to the beach town, an area that largely escaped the real estate boom of the last decade and retained its laid-back atmosphere. The town's residents have accepted change only grudgingly.

Torgerson, who has been quietly spending millions of dollars to acquire eight parcels, alluded to the challenge by recounting the difficulty of negotiating with landowners there. “We expect a lot of public input,” he told a recent gathering.

Convincing Fort Myers Beach residents and elected officials will be Torgerson's biggest challenge. If he can overcome their anti-development objections, he will have accomplished what few have been willing to venture there.

The carrot Torgerson is dangling is the realignment of Estero Boulevard at the foot of Matanzas Pass Bridge. It's a perennially congested area that's been a sore point with residents and tourists alike. Solving that problem will score Torgerson much goodwill.

What's more, the promise of additional hotel rooms and visitors spells an economic boom for that part of Fort Myers Beach. An economic impact study suggests a $1.5 billion economic impact over 10 years.

So far, politicians who will decide the issue haven't declared their support for the development. County Commissioner Frank Mann sought to calm the crowd that heard Torgerson's proposal recently. “This is such a huge undertaking it's going to take a while,” he says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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