(By Town Councilman Jim Atterholt) It has been a year since I first wrote about the Island Renaissance that is currently transforming Fort Myers Beach, and I thought an update might be helpful.
Since first being elected to the Fort Myers Beach Town Council in 2020, I have had a front row seat to the litany of innovative projects that are either ongoing or are about to occur on our island.
There is much to be hopeful about the trajectory of Fort Myers Beach. Many of our community’s past leaders are responsible for providing the vision for our Island Renaissance. The challenge before the current Town Council is to manage the change wisely and to ensure forward progress. Many individual projects have already garnered attention but rarely is the collection of projects that constitute the Island Renaissance considered in its entirety.
The most obvious development has been the county’s renovation of our Estero Boulevard. As part of this development, the county has infused $79.7 million in a new road surface, bike lanes and sidewalks for our island. These enhanced bike lanes and the new and improved sidewalks will hopefully allow more folks to leave their cars at home and help with traffic. Additionally, our town has invested $60 million for new storm and drinking water infrastructure. The improved storm water system has already helped to dramatically reduce traffic jams caused by flooded intersections after rainstorms. It can also help to protect the water quality by better controlling runoff flowing back into the ocean. Proper lighting for the road and crosswalks must be a priority. An amber light solution has been approved by the town and negotiations with the county and FP&L regarding funding and implementation are ongoing.
A new $55 million dollar county bridge will begin construction at the south end of the island in the second half of 2022. The new bridge will be built adjacent to the old bridge on the Gulf side, and, when completed, the old bridge will be torn down. The new bridge will be high enough that it will not need to be raised when tall boats attempt to pass, and the bridge will have significantly enhanced capacity for both pedestrians and bikes. It is expected to be completed near the end of 2024.
Over the past year, the Town of Fort Myers Beach has approved renovation plans for Bayside Park, Times Square and the Bay Oaks Community Center. The Bayside Park restoration begins this month and is expected to be finished before the end of the year. The Times Square restoration should begin July 5th and be completed by the end of the year. The new Bay Oaks Community Center should also break ground some time in 2022.
Lastly, the state, county and town are currently in discussions to improve traffic flows at the foot of the bridge on the north end of the island. This will be another significant change to our island that is still in the design phase with most of the $6.8 million price tag being covered by the State of Florida and Lee County. This project is expected to begin in the spring or summer of 2023. The Florida Department of Transportation is holding a public hearing on the project at Chapel by the Sea Church at 5 p.m. on February 3, 2022. This project will have a major impact on our island and is still evolving. I would encourage you to attend the public hearing to learn more details and share your input.
On the private sector front, the new Margaritaville project broke ground last year. This development will cover seven acres near Times Square, and fill several lots left empty by the destruction of Hurricane Charlie in 2004. The 254-room resort will be connected from the Gulf-side to the Bay-side via an enclosed pedestrian bridge over Estero Blvd. This pedestrian overpass will be open to the public which should help prevent traffic from having to slow down at that section of Estero Blvd. It is my hope that this pedestrian overpass concept can become a model for other parts of our island as well to assist with traffic congestion. The grand opening for the resort is expected to be in August of 2023 and will bring new restaurants and other amenities to our island. It is also exciting to see the new private investment, upgrades and improvements already being made by other businesses who are neighbors to the new Margaritaville property.
These are bold quality of place projects that will improve our island’s attractiveness to both our residents and our visitors. If we are creative, and we look for new ways to manage our traffic and parking challenges–these projects will also enhance the quality of life for those who call our island their home. Even with all our challenges, I continue to believe that the coming Island Renaissance is a revitalization of Fort Myers Beach of such magnitude that our future remains mostly sunny.
Jim Atterholt is a member of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council and can be reached by e-mail at AtterholtJ@fmbgov.com
Wonder if the town will get together with us Times Square Business Owners and discuss this with us. They must provide us with plans and also how they will provide safe and easy access for customers to get to our businesses. If not there better be some funds to keep us afloat because when the road was removed nothing was done to make sure there was access to our businesses and most of us were struggling to keep from folding. It always sounds good on paper. Hopefully it will be done before Christmas week!
Good summary Jim!
Fantastic article, Jim.
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