It was standing room only at the Pink Shell Resort Monday night as Fort Myers Beach residents and business owners listened to Ben Freeland and his team pitch their plan to redevelop Moss Marina from boat storage barn buildings into a 3-hotel waterfront community. At least one elected official we spoke to was unhappy with the presentation.
Freeland’s plans include 3 hotels with different price points, totaling 400 rooms, a 1,000-foot long community bay walk, a marina, bars, restaurants and shopping. His pitch to the community is that he will be opening up private property to the community, creating view corridors to the water and bringing back hundreds of “beds” that were lost due to Hurricane Ian. Thousands of hotel rooms and vacation rentals all over Lee County remain closed as a result of the storm.
Freeland told the packed crowd that there are three elements to making his project work: Is it a benefit to the neighbors? Is it a benefit to the business community and the island as a whole? Is it financially feasible? Freelend has said the 400 hotel rooms in his plan now is what makes the entire project financially feasible.
Freeland and his design team have been holding weeks of meetings with local officials and residents in the community to get feedback. It all culminated with the 2-hour long presentation last night. It was really the first time the community got to see detailed pictures and video of the vision they have for that area.
At some point, the plan will have to go before the town Local Planning Agency, then the Town Council to see if it aligns with the town’s Land Development Code and Comp Plan. One official we spoke to last night said, “They clearly did not listen or have any intention to listen to residents with this presentation.” Getting big projects approved on an island that incorporated in 1995 with a goal of trying to keep the community quaint, will make this project a very interesting one to watch when it comes time for government approvals. We all remember the hoops TPI had to jump through to get the Margaritaville project approved. Of course, Hurricane Ian puts an entirely new perspective on development on the island.
Many of the questions on the Beach Talk Radio live broadcast of the presentation last night had to do with traffic and parking, which is always a top concern of residents on the island. Freelend said they are going to provide more parking than what they are required to provide and they would encourage guests not to rent cars or drive to the hotels. There has also been a lot of banter about a water taxi to shuttle people up and down the island at a cost of $15 for the day.
Rick Hall, who’s worked on traffic studies and in transportation for decades, did a traffic analysis for this hotel and concluded that there would not be much volume and that “congestion would be dispersed throughout the day.” The development would be a short walk or bike ride from other restaurants, the beach and Times Square, however you can never really predict if a guest is going to rent a car or take an Uber until you have years of hard data.
Several times Freeland said that, if not this project, he would simply rebuild boat storage buildings. And he showed pictures of big, white, boxy buildings blocking the view of the water.