Red Tide, COVID restrictions, a completely lost season and a mask mandate. Restaurants on Fort Myers Beach have had to deal with many issues outside their control over the past two years.
Even today, there are restrictions on indoor seating and it’s the responsibility of the restaurant owner to make sure everyone is following the town’s mandated mask ordinance.
The rates Times Square businesses pay to rent the outdoor seating areas from the town were scheduled to increase another $2.50 per square foot next week. The increase would have taken the rates to $12.50 per square foot.
Looking for a way to help those businesses out, Councilman Dan Allers proposed delaying that increase for six months to help the restaurants recover some of their lost revenue from all the recent issues they’ve had to deal with. Councilman Jim Atterholt agreed that something needed to be done to help.
Mayor Ray Murphy suggested the town could pro-rate the fees on the businesses due to the restrictions put on the restaurants by the state, “if that in fact is the beef,” he said (Murphy didn’t mention the revenue lost due to the town’s own mask mandate).
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said the town has delayed and delayed raising the rates down there for years. “They are paying a lot less than the going rate for that prime property.”
Murphy added, “I don’t think the delay should go on indefinitely. I also agree that the rates down there have been discounted over the years, well below the market rates. They’ve really been able to enjoy that property down there for years way below market rate for some of the most prime real estate in all of Lee County. If there’s a concession to be made it should be made on a short-term basis.”
No specifics were given by the Mayor or Vice Mayor on what they believe the actual value of that property is. Some of the restaurant owners argue that the town has slowly stopped providing services in the area. Services they are now paying for.
The town is planning to spend millions of dollars to refurbish the entire Times Square area over the next few years, which actually used to be a road before it was closed off and the restaurants were able to expand.
Councilman Atterholt said the delay in raising the fees was appropriate. “Due to COVID they have not been able to utilize that space anyway. We’re getting ready to raise their rent on space they have not been able to use through no fault of their own. I would support postponing that increase for as long as possible.”
Town Manager Roger Hernstat said the delay in raising the rates is not significant in terms of the town’s budget. “I can tell you one way or the other we will not miss hitting the budget due to this.”
The council voted 5-0 to delay the increase for 6 months. The 6 month delay will include other restaurants with outdoor seating not located in Times Square such as the S.O.B.