The early days of the pandemic dealt some big blows to the business community of Bonita Springs, a fast-growing city about halfway between Fort Myers and Naples
By May, for example, the Southwest Florida Events Center, a four-year-old event and concert hall that hosted some national acts, shuttered. “There are so many facets and so many unknowns that we have made the difficult decision to cease operations," Jennifer and Richard Shanahan, the owners of the facility, wrote in an email and social media post.
But while some businesses, especially those in entertainment, retail and hospitality, struggle to regain footing, commercial real estate and future development in the city is thriving. “In a sense we haven’t missed a bit,” Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons says. “There’s absolutely been no slowdown. Instead, it’s just the opposite.”
The Bonita Springs City Council, in that vein, recently approved two major projects. One is on Estero Bay, on the former Weeks Fish Camp property next to the 454-room Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa. The developer, London Bay Development Group, a unit of Naples-based homebuilder London Bay, acquired the 30.5-acre site for $12.75 million in 2018.
Although plans aren’t official, one potential use is a Continuing Care Retirement Community that will feature 300 luxury independent living units. London Bay officials also say the dormant marina on the site will be reactivated, with a publicly accessible boat ramp. (A spokeswoman for the project says while the comp plan amendment moved forward, there are zoning applications still going through the approval process.)
While that project is in the early stages, the city continues to move ahead with several aspects of a long-range plan to revitalize downtown Bonita Springs. A new library, a $14 million project, opened in 2019, which Simmons says has been a catalyst for more development. And earlier this year the city put out a request for proposals for Imperial Crossing, a potential mixed-use project on nearly six acres downtown.
Another significant project the council recently approved is Midtown at Bonita, a mixed-use development on 67 acres east of Interstate 75, off of Bonita Beach Road and Bonita Grande Drive. The project is approved for up to 482 multifamily units, a 165-room hotel up to six floors, assisted living residences and some 300,000 square feet of retail space. The city council and mayor, in approving the project’s zoning changes, note that it would solve a problem in another part of the city, by moving traffic flow east. “That’s a very hot part of town, east of 75,” Simmons says.
Coconut Creek-based Zuckerman Homes, which has built several residential and commercial projects in Southwest Florida, is the developer of Midtown at Bonita. The family-owned company has built single-family homes, condos, townhomes, hotels and more, CEO Ryan Zuckerman says. “We run the gamut,” Zuckerman says. “We’re very entrepreneurial in the projects we choose.”
Zuckerman says the company, which has built homes in Sienna Reserve in Naples and Venetian Pointe in Fort Myers, has been looking at the Midtown at Bonita site for several years. One of the challenges was cleaning up some title issues, Zuckerman says. Another obstacle? The location, bordering the Khel Canal, which flows into the Imperial River, has had flooding issues. Rains from Hurricane Irma and other storms, Simmons says, have caused issues there and in the nearby Worthington Country Club.
Zuckerman Homes, in working with the city and nearby property owners associations, committed to build a pair of lakes and other systems to divert water. At least 33 acres in the project are going to be put toward vegetation and water retention, city officials say. “They not only worked with us on our environmental concerns,” Simmons says, “they exceeded them.”
‘In a sense we haven’t missed a bit. There’s absolutely been no slowdown. Instead it’s just the opposite.’ Peter Simmons, mayor of Bonita Springs
“It was an arduous process,” Zuckerman adds. “But we worked very hard with city staff and planners.”
Zuckerman Homes paid about $4.75 million for the property, and, after the recent city approval is working on a final plan of the makeup of the project, between residences, commercial and the hotel. “It will be market-driven,” Zuckerman says.
Also, given the location, at the edge of the city and near environmentally sensitive lands, Zuckerman says, “we are like last frontier builders out there. We are excited to get out there and get going on this.”