THE DOWN­TOWN LOW­DOWN

THE RE­NAIS­SANCE TAK­ING PLACE IN FORT MY­ERS RIVER DIS­TRICT PROM­ISES STRIK­ING ARCHITECHTURAL TOW­ERS, A BOARD­WALK ALONG THE RIVER AND EVEN AN IS­LAND PARK

Times of the Islands - - Features - BY KELLY MAD­DEN

Fort My­ers Mayor Randy Hen­der­son and sev­eral big-time de­vel­op­ers have been busy re­design­ing the down­town Fort My­ers’ River Dis­trict, mak­ing the cul­tural and his­toric cen­ter a more walk­a­ble and friendly place to live, work, play and visit.

When Fort My­ers Mayor Randy Hen­der­son talks about what’s go­ing on in the down­town River Dis­trict, he has a hard time con­tain­ing his en­thu­si­asm. There’s no ques­tion he likes what he sees re­gard­ing the de­vel­op­ment of key projects there, and ea­gerly talks about the over­all di­rec­tion of the river­front and ad­ja­cent ar­eas. Hen­der­son rat­tles off data about dozens of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment projects un­der­way or in the plan­ning stages as if read­ing the info, un­til you re­al­ize it’s in his head. He has a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of just how crit­i­cal the de­vel­op­ment of the River Dis­trict is, and what it means to the suc­cess of Fort My­ers.

The mayor is a firm be­liever in the di­rec­tion the city has taken and is ex­cited about the va­ri­ety of res­i­den­tial, ho­tel and other real es­tate projects com­ing on­line in the fu­ture. Al­ways giv­ing credit to the Fort My­ers City Coun­cil and the Down­town Com­mu­nity Re­de­vel­op­ment Agency (CRA), along with so many other en­ti­ties, Hen­der­son speaks with con­fi­dence about what has been ac­com­plished.

“Back dur­ing the re­ces­sion years, around 2000, our city lead­ers were able to fore­see that it would not last for­ever, and moved for­ward with per­mit­ting and build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture that we would need …,” he says. “Road im­prove­ments, the wa­ter basin work, the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion needs—we all had the re­solve to make sure that when the down­town de­vel­op­ment came back, we were ready.”

THE MAYOR IS A FIRM BE­LIEVER IN THE DI­REC­TION THE CITY HAS TAKEN AND IS EX­CITED ABOUT THE VA­RI­ETY OF RES­I­DEN­TIAL, HO­TEL AND OTHER REAL ES­TATE PROJECTS COM­ING ON­LINE IN THE FU­TURE.

“THE RIVER DIS­TRICT OF DOWN­TOWN FORT MY­ERS OF­FERS THE BEST OF EV­ERY­THING.”

—DE­VEL­OPER RE­BEKAH MACFAR­LANE BAR­NEY

A key in­di­ca­tor of down­town growth is the Lu­mi­nary Ho­tel, be­ing built ad­ja­cent to Har­bor­side Event Cen­ter. This project was the cen­ter of a ti­tle dis­pute be­tween the city and heirs of the landown­ers who deeded the prop­erty to the city decades ago—with the caveat that it never be used as a com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment site. When the city pur­sued ti­tle in­sur­ance for the prop­erty and con­struc­tion, the dis­pute came to light.

As of this writ­ing, Hen­der­son says the city has reached an agree­ment with the fam­ily mem­bers of the land’s for­mer own­ers, to de­velop a 2.6acre is­land park in the Caloosa­hatchee River in ex­change for clear ti­tle to the land un­der the Lu­mi­nary Ho­tel. “The fi­nal de­ci­sion will come from the court, but we feel con­fi­dant that every­body—fam­ily mem­bers, at­tor­neys for both sides, and the city—have come to a so­lu­tion that will pro­vide a liv­ing legacy to these prom­i­nent Fort My­ers icons,” he ex­plains.

LEGACY PARK

The is­land, to be called Legacy Park, is lo­cated just east of the twin-span bridge as you head north on what many still call “Old 41” into North Fort My­ers. It will in­clude a na­ture trail and beach area, and be op­er­ated un­der the Parks & Recre­ation Depart­ment.

Tampa-based Main­sail Lodg­ing & De­vel­op­ment is de­vel­op­ing the Lu­mi­nary Ho­tel, sched­uled to open in 2020. Plans call for a lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel, along with mul­ti­ple res­tau­rants, bars and other com­mer­cial busi­nesses.

CRA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Michelle Hyl­ton-Terry sees the Lu­mi­nary as a cat­a­lyst to the con­tin­ued growth in the River Dis­trict: “I think many de­vel­op­ers and in­vestors were wait­ing to see what hap­pened with that project. It has in­stilled con­fi­dence in oth­ers who were wait­ing for the right time to part­ner up with the city to cre­ate a down­town area that would be an ex­am­ple of how it should be done.”

Well be­fore these ef­forts, oth­ers dipped their toes into the wa­ters of pro­vid­ing res­i­den­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties along the down­town river­front, in­clud­ing the de­vel­op­ers of Oa­sis, Riviera, High Point Place, Alta Mar and Pointe Royale con­do­mini­ums. Dat­ing back to the early 2000s, these de­vel­op­ments faced ad­ver­sity in mar­ket­ing their prod­ucts be­cause of the global real es­tate re­ces­sion, but are cur­rently see­ing re­newed in­ter­est in the River Dis­trict real es­tate mar­ket.

THE MASTER PLAN

The River Dis­trict’s growth has been a long road. In 2002, Fort My­ers en­listed the help of renowned ar­chi­tect/ur­ban plan­ner An­drés Duany. Hen­der­son says the city has been fol­low­ing Duany’s plan. The city also has state ap­proval and the funds to re­build east First and Se­cond streets into two-way thor­ough­fares, with con­struc­tion set for the se­cond or third quar­ter of 2019. Hen­der­son notes that res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ers have paid fees to sup­port those con­struc­tion projects, along with state and city funds, and the work is ex­pected to take 18 to 24 months.

MacFar­lane Bar­ney De­vel­op­ment, headed by CEO Robert MacFar­lane and his daugh­ter, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Re­bekah MacFar­lane Bar­ney, is no stranger to down­town. Years ago, it de­vel­oped the Riviera, Beau

Ri­vage and St. Tropez con­dos along the Caloosa­hatchee. The firm’s de­vel­op­ment team was also in­volved in the Campo Felice project, and has since moved on to plan­ning other ma­jor new projects in the dis­trict.

MacFar­lane Bar­ney’s Prima Luce will be its fifth and sixth t ow­ers shap­ing down­town’s sky­line—22 floors each, with 220 1-, 2- and 3-bed­room res­i­dences. It’s lo­cated at 2631 First St.; cur­rently 50 units have sold, with sev­eral more un­der reser­va­tion. Si­t­u­ated on 325 feet of river­front, Prima Luce fea­tures will in­clude boat docks, a huge swim­ming pool, busi­ness cen­ter and so­cial rooms. Own­ers may vi­su­al­ize their new condo via a high-tech, in­ter­ac­tive process in which they select cus­tom col­ors and high-end fin­ishes to com­plete their home on­line. Prices range from the $200,000s to more than $1 mil­lion.

Prima Luce has bro­ken ground on con­struc­tion of a new sea­wall, and site work per­mits are in place. Con­struc­tion is ten­ta­tively slated to be­gin in the first quar­ter of 2019 and is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2020.

“The River Dis­trict of down­town Fort My­ers of­fers the best of ev­ery­thing—ex­cite­ment and events of a big city, the quaint charm of a his­toric small town and the breath­tak­ing nat­u­ral beauty of Southwest Florida,” says Re­bekah MacFar­lane Bar­ney. “Peo­ple want to live, work and play in this uniquely vi­brant com­mu­nity … It’s our home, too.”

BOARD­WALK ALONG THE RIVER

Ev­ery river­front de­vel­op­ment in that area of First Street is re­quired by the city to con­trib­ute to a con­tin­u­ous pub­lic board­walk di­rectly along the Caloosa­hatchee. The board­walk will be com­prised of 10-foot-wide pavers, mak­ing it easy for peo­ple to ac­cess the grow­ing so­cial and busi­ness en­ti­ties found down­town—while min­i­miz­ing in­ter­ac­tion with ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic.

One of the most in­no­va­tive new projects is the afore­men­tioned Campo Felice, on Ed­wards Drive across from the city-owned Fort My­ers Yacht Basin. The vi­sion of Rob Har­ris and his for­mer part­ner Robert MacFar­lane, this once Sher­a­ton and Am­tel Ho­tel, now a beau­ti­fully ren­o­vated build­ing, is an up­scale, in­de­pen­dent-liv­ing com­mu­nity in which peo­ple 55 or older rent well-ap­pointed apart­ment homes.

There are 323 units, 102 of which are al­ready oc­cu­pied. Res­i­dents of the 24-story build­ing can dine in three res­tau­rants and the Bar Luca, which all of­fer beau­ti­ful views of the wa­ter and sun­sets. Res­i­dents can dance in the ball­room, catch a movie in the cin­ema, and take a dip in the large heated salt­wa­ter pool as well as visit the beauty sa­lon and the fit­ness cen­ter—all with­out leav­ing the prop­erty.

Campo Felice’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Tara O’Sul­li­van, wel­comes peo­ple to tour and in­dulge in a de­li­cious, gourmet meal pre­pared by the chefs. “Our res­i­dents en­joy our con­ti­nen­tal menu that in­cludes filet mignon, lamb lol­lipops and shrimp ev­ery day. We of­fer sea­sonal of­fer­ings in our daily spe­cials and live mu­sic in our bar for friends to so­cial­ize and en­joy the life in down­town Fort My­ers,” says O’Sul­li­van.

Owner Rob Har­ris and his team have plans in place to also de­velop an ad­ja­cent prop­erty near the cor­ner of Fowler and First streets. He an­tic­i­pates a mix of as­sisted liv­ing res­i­dences in a nine-story build­ing, with med­i­cal of­fices and other ser­vices re­lated to the care of older res­i­dents.

Just across First Street from the Sid­ney & Berne Davis Art Cen­ter will be The Place on First, a build­ing that will have a slightly dif­fer­ent twist.

“WE FEEL THE TIM­ING IS PER­FECT FOR THE UNIQUE TYPE OF PROJECT WE’RE CRE­AT­ING.”

— SALES AND MAR­KET­ING DI­REC­TOR BAR­BARA BENGOCHEA-PEREZ

The brain­child of David Fry, for­mer top ex­ec­u­tive at de­vel­oper WCI, The Place on First has done some ad­just­ing to its master plan in or­der to bet­ter fit the mar­ket.

“Orig­i­nally, we were go­ing to do a mixed-use type of build­ing, with res­tau­rants and re­tail on the ground floor, of­fices on the next three floors and con­dos above, topped with a rooftop pool,” ex­plains Fry. “Over time, I de­cided to al­ter the con­cept to do away with the of­fice space and in­stead look for the right part­ner to do a 100-room ho­tel there. We’re still plan­ning on two floors of very cool con­do­mini­ums there, but only 12 units.”

Fry says the build­ing is fully ap­proved and he is await­ing de­sign plans and draw­ings to ob­tain per­mit­ting. He’s ne­go­ti­at­ing with three ho­tel firms to en­sure one will be the right match. “I bought the build­ing in 2013 and was wait­ing to make sure the Lu­mi­nary Ho­tel project was go­ing to move for­ward. … The down­town Fort My­ers area is poised for sig­nif­i­cant growth … ”

Mi­ami-based JAXI Builders is an­other player, plan­ning ONE, a 21-story, bou­tique-style build­ing with two units per floor. Homes range from 1,500 to more than 5,000 square feet, and have ex­pan­sive pri­vate bal­conies; en­ergy-ef­fi­cient, im­pact-re­sis­tant win­dows/slid­ing doors; smart tech­nolo­gies and pri­vate el­e­va­tors. Sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Bar­bara Bengochea-Perez says, “We have reser­va­tions on al­most 50 per­cent of ONE res­i­dences, and we feel the tim­ing is per­fect for the unique type of project we’re cre­at­ing.”

JAXI is also mar­ket­ing its Al­lure build­ing, twin 32-story tow­ers with 1-, 2-, and 3-bed­room res­i­dences, to be lo­cated at 2601 First St. The tow­ers will be home to 280 homes, and Bengochea-Perez says they have more than two dozen units un­der reser­va­tion. Prices are from the up­per $300,000s to more than $2 mil­lion.

Bengochea-Perez ex­plains: “We feel real es­tate is chang­ing from ‘lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion’ to some­thing I call ‘WTD.’ Walk­a­bil­ity and water­front are key com­po­nents to our project, tech and trans­porta­tion are what peo­ple want in their lives, and des­ti­na­tion and de­mo­graph­ics are re­veal­ing to us a new, younger buyer … ”

MORE SIGNS OF GROWTH

The mayor points to many other signs of growth. The shop­ping cen­ter called First Street Vil­lage is to be ad­ja­cent to City Walk, planned for just south of the Publix-an­chored plaza along McGre­gor Boule­vard near the in­ter­sec­tion of Vic­to­ria Av­enue.

Cov­er­ing just un­der 8 acres, the prop­erty is slated for a mixed-use blend of res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial and ho­tel space in a multi-story de­sign. It’s now a va­cant lot and the de­vel­oper has in­di­cated the ho­tel there will carry one of the Mar­riott brand names. City Walk Fort My­ers LLC ac­quired the land from Madi­son Ave In­vest­ment Group LLC, and hopes to break ground be­fore the end of 2018.

And although not tech­ni­cally in the River Dis­trict, Hen­der­son is ex­cited about the city’s plan for what is now be­ing called the Mid­town Dis­trict, en­com­pass­ing Gard­ner Park and Dean Park. “We’re go­ing to be look­ing at a $20 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion in­vest­ment in the in­fra­struc­ture there,” he says. “And uti­liz­ing smart growth ini­tia­tives and work­ing with the right pri­vate part­ners to de­velop and re­pur­pose that area into af­ford­able hous­ing for folks of all ages who want to live near down­town.”

Hen­der­son men­tions the Brad­ford Block, also known as Smith Block be­cause of its own­er­ship and de­vel­op­ment by the Bill Smith fam­ily, known lo­cally for a chain of ap­pli­ance stores. The prop­er­ties in­clude some va­cant parcels, and build­ings hous­ing a bank, the Ar­cade The­atre, a law firm and sev­eral smaller busi­nesses. “North Amer­i­can Prop­er­ties is plan­ning some awe­some things there, in­clud­ing apart­ments, re­tail and restau­rant space, a park­ing garage and some ex­cit­ing plans for the his­toric Hall of 50 States build­ing along Ed­wards Drive.”

The mayor clearly has a solid be­lief in the down­town area’s fu­ture. “I’m proud of the city and our peo­ple who had the fore­sight to en­sure we had the crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture in place to ac­com­mo­date the right type of growth we need down­town,” Hen­der­son says. “In the next six to eight years, I see $1 bil­lion in in­vest­ment within 1 mile of the down­town Fort My­ers.”

From top: The Prima Luce con­do­minium tow­ers are nes­tled be­tween down­town’s First Street and the banks of the Caloosa­hatchee River; Fort My­ers Mayor Randy Hen­der­son.

From top: Vi­sion­ary Robert MacFar­lane, CEO of MacFar­lane Bar­ney De­vel­op­ment, saw the po­ten­tial for res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in the F ort My­ers River Dis­trict; Re­bekah MacFar­lane Bar­ney is the firm’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer .

Al­lure is lo­cated at 2601 First Street; its river­front is de­signed with docks, boat slips and gang­ways for easy drop-off and pickup. Bar­bara Bengochea-Perez, sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Mi­amibased JAXI Builders, is work­ing on the ONE and Al­lure build­ings.

The board­walk at Prima Luce

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