- November 29, 2019
With the unanimous approval of Lee County Commissioners, the first craft brewery in Fort Myers has plans to become the largest brewery, event lawn and tasting hall in Southwest Florida.
The county recently approved the sale of 22 acres adjacent to the brewery’s location in Gateway at Daniels Parkway and Commerce Center Drive. That's where founders Rob and Jen Whyte plan to build a multipurpose 40,000-square-foot facility with malt beverage manufacturing and packaging, a large tasting hall, private event space, outdoor beer garden, ample parking and green space.
The Whytes tell Coffee Talk they will close on the site currently owned by the Lee County Port Authority near Southwest Florida International Airport for $2.05 million. About eight to 10 acres will be developed for the brewery. As sole owners, they are not taking on additional investment for the expansion.
“This all started for us three years ago because of parking, and we kept looking at the parcel that the Port Authority formerly had for lease,” Jen Whyte says. “We first tried to negotiate a lease, and then the county decided the land is not connected to the airport in any way and put it up for bid.”
The Whytes founded Fort Myers Brewing in 2013, largely as a hobby brewery, in 1,500 square feet. It now occupies 20,000 square feet it owns in Gateway. The Whytes project permitting for the expansion will take 18 to 24 months and, once approved, will be developed in phases. After the move is complete, they’ll have the option to lease or sell the space they currently occupy.
“If we could phase it where we could put a parking lot in tomorrow and continue with the build, that's what we would do,” Jen Whyte says. “We will move our tap room first and build the beer hall and beer garden, and once we do that, it will free up space in our current facility for more production. Moving the brewery will have to be timed carefully because we don’t want to do that when we are brewing at full capacity in February.”
Eventually, the entire project will include an event lawn, a food truck rally area, offices including co-work space and their largest expansion need — ample parking.
Mostly, the Whytes are happy to have the opportunity to grow without leaving the Gateway community, where they also live. “Gateway has supported us from day one,” Jen Whyte says. “We love Gateway, and this gives us the opportunity to repay that loyalty by staying where we started.”