Will Times Square Ever Return?

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Not too long ago, Times Square on Fort Myers Beach was bustling with restaurants, retail shops, street performers and a bullhorn preacher everyone loved to hate. Today, one year after Ian, Times Square is home to a few food trucks, kiosks, empty lots and dangerous debris. Is there a new Times Square in anyone’s future?

There are many challenges for that small strip of property that so many locals, visitors and tourists loved to visit. The town owns the property that runs through the square. The county owns the pier, as well as the two parks that bookend Times Square; Lynn Hall Park and Crescent Beach Park. Several strips of land have been for sale in Times Square for quite some time now. And, the town is in a property foreclosure battle with Terry Persaud, who they say has been violating several codes on his Sunset Grill property for multiple years, to the tune of $2.7 million.

Times Square before Hurricane Ian

In addition to all of that, there are multiple property owners who own the land that used to host the businesses. And, those property owners didn’t always get along. If anything is going to be built in Times Square those property owners are going to have to get along.

Until about ten days ago, there really hasn’t been any solid discussion about the future of Times Square. Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers wanted to see if he could get things moving so he called a meeting. He said he thinks everyone is finally on the same page. Well, what does that mean?

The main thing that came out of the meeting was that the property owners all agreed that someone should create a rendering of what a future Times Square might look like. From there the group could make tweaks, additions and changes. It would be a starting document. The group needs to consider many things. How do the buildings connect? Could there be a boardwalk? Should new buildings tie into the pier? Could they connect to Crescent Park? Where would the elevators and the restrooms go?

One thing everyone is aware of is that any new buildings constructed will need to be higher. Times Square is in the high velocity zone. Hurricane Ian wiped out every building in Times Square, on both sides of the square. The buildings on Estero Boulevard, including Bella Mozzarella (which is open for business) were heavily damaged but survived. New buildings will have to be 17,18, maybe 20 feet up in the air. And the ground floor can not be used for preparing food. The ground floor could be used for dining and storage.

Up until now it’s been baby steps for the popular downtown stretch of town tiles. It started with local artists Lacy McClary and Summer DeSalvo painting the tower in front of the La Ola food truck. Two local residents donated the funds to replace the beloved clock. New Palm Trees were planted. And, local volunteers chipped in to paint the wavy wall giving the area a much-needed fresh coat of beachy vibe look.

La Ola owner Tom Houghton has done everything possible to try to bring people back to the square with his food truck, alcohol trailer and live music. Natalie is also in the square every day with her 3 Escargot’s kiosk. And, more recently Yo Taco moved into the square taking up the former Pete’s Time Out location.

One of the biggest questions asked, after ‘when is the pier going to be rebuilt?’ is what’s going to happen to Times Square? The only answer to that question today is that 13 months after Ian, there is no clear plan to rebuild Times Square and we’re now awaiting a rendering from the property owners. Then, we’ll see if that rendering works for all involved and what their next steps might be. No hard deadline was established as to when a rendering would be available or presented by the group.

Pre-Ian the town was planning to give Times Square a complete makeover. The multi-million dollar project included underground repairs, a new look for all the businesses, a stage and other upgrades. Back then big debate was whether or not the sails would block the view of the sunset and how they could stagger construction so businesses wouldn’t miss too much of that seasonal tourist revenue. What a difference a year makes. All of those businesses are now gone.

 

54 COMMENTS

  1. Frivolous discussion for non-stake holders. Times square as we remember it is gone. To quote the late great Jimmy Buffett. “Breathe in, breathe out, move on.”

    • Not an inconsequential discussion for any member of the FMB community, whether you’re a business owner or not. This discussion deserves to go beyond just the immediate stakeholders $$!!. Community members, frequent visitors, and even occasional tourists have strong emotional ties and opinions about Times Square, and their voices should be an important part of the overall conversation.

  2. I used to live in FMB and worked at times square. Working at Kilwins and love to watch the people come by to enjoy a sample of fudge or a sample of a flavor of ice cream. Pete’s Time Out was a favorite of mine as well as the Pier side Grill. The ambiance was good too. But with building requirements height issues. Will any of the owners ever come back?

  3. Foot trucks could never produce the income needed to support the price of the land in Times Square. As former owners of Pete’s Time Out – a family owned business that was operated by our family for almost 40 years maybe just a “burger Joint” to some, but it was our livelihood and employed hundreds of people over those years!! We provided good food, good drinks and great times to generations of people! That did help make up Ft Myers Beach regardless of what Lee thinks. There are several families that did exactly what we did also. And they all were part of the allure of Ft Myers Beach. You need many things to make a community successful!!! My hope is a new elevated row of “food joints” will bring so many people who loved all of our establishments back to the new Times Square. Please don’t ever change the name of the area❤️❤️❤️

    • couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. Pete’s Time Out and other family-owned businesses like yours have been the backbone of Times Square for years, offering not just food and drinks, but also a sense of community and place. The goal should definitely be to build upon that legacy, making Times Square even better than it was, while keeping the essence that made it so special. That means bringing back the restaurants, street performers, enhancing the entertainment options, and yes, maybe even finding a way to moderate the more disruptive elements like the bullhorn preacher. Rebuilding the pier should also be a priority. There’s work to be done, but with the combined efforts of stakeholders, business owners, and the community, I’m optimistic that we can recreate the Times Square that we all know and love.

  4. I loved Town Square. My kids and their kids love Town Square.

    I’m not a resident and I shouldn’t be butting in:
    Why are you taking all the things that were Fort Myers Beach? You already have Margarita that some people like me can’t afford. I love the beach and Town Square like it was. I agree with some of the others. The things that were Fort Myers Beach you want to take away.

    • “Take away”??

      No one is “taking away” Times Square; Hurricane Ian did that.

      The property owners are free to rebuild, of course following current building codes etc., but as detailed in the article, it will be extremely expensive.

  5. I loved Town Square. My kids and their kids love Town Square.

    I’m not a resident and I shouldn’t be butting in:
    Why are you taking all the things that were Fort Myers Beach? You already have Margarita that some people like me can’t afford. I love the beach and Town Square like it was. I agree with some of the others. The things that were Fort Myers Beach you want to take away.

  6. What about considering a name change for something new and unique to FMB? New York already has a Times Square and have asked as a local about the history of the name and so far nobody has shared any history of why the name. Something that possible honors someone or something unique for us as a town.

  7. First, I’d like to say that I am not FMB resident. I had an idea that I am just throwing out there. You have some food trucks now in the area could you create a food truck park where the trucks are there always but can be moved to safety during a storm? this would create a lot less permanent damage to the area that could most likely come back much quicker. Some places I am noticing even using a semi trailer with an edge to it as to not look tacky as their kitchen and everything else is open air with lots of shade covering. A place for music with a center bar to service some food at and of course the drinks. Seating all around. It is a nice atmosphere. Two places to compare this idea to is Celebration Park in Naples, Cafe Ortegia the newest restaurant in downtown Punta Gorda uses the semi as a kitchen. Ft. Myers just opened a food truck park as well and Old Bonita is doing this as well.

    Yes, there will still be damage but a good majority of the things lost in a permanent structure could be saved. Expensive equipment being one of them.

    I hope and pray all who have a voice will work together for the best outcome for keeping the Spirit of FMB alive. I know it is a long hard struggle and continue to keep you all in my thoughts and prayers for level heads and hearts that can come together to make it special once again.

  8. Bravo to Tom and La Ola. The scariest words in history “I am from the Government and I am here to help”. Take a look at much smaller Mexico Beach. It is all stilt houses and stilt businesses and lost its charm. Government hurricane building codes and rules for rebuilding means our Time Square is never going to be the same. But it will come back. So will the pier. That is the second pier to be lost at that location. The 1st one got replaced within a couple years. Those of us who grew up on the beach have seen it change many times over, some good and some bad changes. It is a fantastic 7 mile island and it will come back. Visitors will come and it will recover. It will never be the same, but it will be fantastic.

  9. My following opinions are that of one that lives on the Island and has owned my property since 1998. I do not mean to criticize the opinions of others. I just want to insure that “Resident Home Owner” voices are included in dialogues regarding development of Time Square.
    Pre-Ian, many residents considered Time Square an eyesore that created a terrible traffic problem. My visitors often referred to it as a tacky obstacle they would need to negotiate in order to drive to Sanibel. Returning to Ft. Myers Beach (FMB), while stuck a long time in traffic, one would be greeted to FMB by a mannequin waiving her arm and other such schlock. Not a positive contrast to the other surrounding beach communities.
    In any FMB redevelopment plan, please do not set Pre-Ian Time Square density or appearance as the benchmark. Also, during any time of the year, planners should set a 20-minute (or other reasonable figure) drive to Walmart as a goal.
    I request that city planners envision something more stylish than what was previously on the Island.
    I am not a City Planner or Urban Design specialist. I apologize that I cannot offer more specific suggestions. I look forward to future Time Square plans and will enjoy the light traffic while it last.

  10. I wonder what the feasibility of the town using eminent domaine to buy the beachside parcels where The Sunset and Pier were. Then construct a 2 story building with the idea of leasing to restaurants. Kitchens would be on second floor, dining and bar on the first floor similar to the level that the Pier and Sunset were. Maybe give former owners right of first refusal to lease the space they used to be in with more favorable lease terms than a new operator.

    • 🤣🤣 The town doesn’t have multiple millions of dollars to buy that property, nor is building and operating restaurants and businesses its mission.

      The town also cannot simply take the property (what you called eminent domain) to enter into the restaurant/retail industry.

      And the 1978 CCCL is problematic for the properties you mentioned (Pierside/Sunset Grill).

  11. I see many great ideas!
    Maybe something like Mallory Square in KW would be an option, especially since we have Margaritaville right there. Just a thought.
    J.B.’s Time Square.
    Build it and they will come!❤️
    Have a Finns Up day.

  12. I like the idea of cleaning it up, repairing it and food trucks, kiosks and maybe a stage. It would be a better visitor set up. It fits with the “vibe.” Nobody wants to climb 18 ft or elevator for food or trinkets. It all needs to be mobile, which will allow for maybe a different rotation of options, along with old favorites. I like the La Ola set up. One thing that does need attention is restroom facilities. A fancy trailer is so tacky and not pleasant. A brick and mortar bldg is needed somewhere in the TS area. So very grateful that discussion about TS rebirth is happening.

  13. We were there last night. Please take the small kiosks off the beach side, ice cream and jewelry, and move next to the seating.
    At least then you would have a view of the beach!
    We were at the bar with music. Didn’t mind going up stairs.
    I felt pathetic the way the whole area looked. In the interim…..
    Clean up the area of trash, repaint the pavers, add some large potted plants, keep the ocean side free of vendors, the food trucks could pick up the grade of seating making it more inviting until the area is redone.
    Future
    I like the idea of three level buildings. First are shops, second floor condos offices and third nice restaurants. Try to keep ocean side free of anything that blocks the view.
    Just my two cents!

  14. I don’t know what they should do for Times Square but it would be nice if they put up a bunch of hammocks in Crescent Park along with palm trees and shaded places for people to sit. I went to a spot like that in Mexico right on the water and it was so relaxing and so simple.

  15. Never understood Crescent Park. Every time I drove by it it was empty of people, and seemed to just have volleyball nets sitting there. What did people use that “park” for? What are Lee county’s plan for it?

    I envision something like John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach. Quaint and something for everyone.

    • John’s Pass quaint??
      Maybe 25 years ago when I lived there.
      Ian did what needed to be done..unfortunately people died.
      It’s ok you people already ruined Florida 30 years ago.
      Funny when the people who complain about the smell are the ones who clogged the toilet.

  16. This is a rare opportunity to completely redesign Times Square and traffic flow off of the bridge which in season is a nightmare. I believe that FMB working off of an old master plan is not the way forward. Sliding the Time Square area off to the right where the parking lot is would give FMB a chance to redesign the traffic flow and open up more area for the rebuilding of the entire area. There is an exciting future ahead of us but these meeting of the minds of needs to happen sooner and more often to get things going. The Moss Marina project along with Margaritaville are great starting points to rebuild a bigger and better Fort Myers Beach. Congrats to La Ola and all the others who are operating and keeping the dream alive.

  17. I think merchandise, food and beverage trucks, stage for music, more landscaping would be nice. If you check out the celebration park in Naples its set up with a stage for music, food and beverage and its a nice place to go. Something has to be done soon to bring tourists back to FMB beach. It will be nice when Santini is done and it would be nice to have more at mid island where the Red Coconut was.

  18. I think a multi-tier boardwalk could be the lower 2 levels, the lowest being a long boardwalk that people could travel above the beach, the second could be for outdoor dining and then the business buildings would be above those for food preparation and indoor dining.

  19. I think the food truck and kiosk idea is awesome with general seating for all. Good lighting in the area would be nice there are no lights in area now and orange ball lights along Estero are useless

    • It is very dark and unsafe. I was afraid I’d trip on something. Turtle lights are a nice gesture, but during season with all the tourists they are a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  20. I like the stage/food truck idea and Crescent Park upgrade. If hurricane warnings are issued, the food trucks can just move out of the area. Kiosks would be nice too. I definitely think that the pier should be rebuilt

    • Build a amphitheater on 3rd floor, what a view it would offer, food & bars, gift shops etc. on 2nd floor. 1st floor parking. On the water a Ferris wheel, kids park. Just a thought. Good luck!

  21. In reference to everything built being on stilts of 18’ to 20’ – this is an awkward height for customers to climb or elevator up to – for clothes, jewelry, souvenirs and more. I imagine condos with stores on the their first floor and a connecting walkway to go store to store. Under the condos dinning and kiosks representing the shops and restaurants up above with 2-3 floors of condos above on top of the restaurant’s and shops.

    This way you still create a wonderful walking around experience below with more beautiful places for people to lodge as well as more patrons for the shops and restaurants year round. This will bring in the revenue to pay the absorbent prices the property cost now.

  22. I like the rendering, except that sail is a bit of an overkill. I mean, don’t people know where they are at? And it blocks the sky.

  23. I cannot imagine someone paying the lot prices in Times Square (multi million) and then building a 20 foot building in order to sell tacos or jewelry. If money were no object my vote would be for the town to buy the lots in Times Square, do the underground repairs that need to be done and update the pavers. Then have a stage and food truck/kiosk park. The county eventually needs to fix the pier. To me Crescent park was underutilized. I never saw volleyball being played. And although it allowed for a view corridor of the beach while driving by, it was just not used. If the county were to add shade structures and trees and greenery with table and chairs maybe it could complement the Times Square food truck/kiosk area. Could the county also add a merry go round or let someone rent a spot for those rides or bouncy trampoline type rides that you see in other beach locations? I think a fun spot like that would draw families to eat, drink and play at Times Square and Crescent Park. But town and county would have to get along and I don’t know where all the $ would come from. Just dreaming.

    • I agree! I wouldn’t mind it left open land owned by town with food trucks and kiosks!!! I had Ben saying that exact same thing as well as the kid rides. I took pics while in N Berwick Scotland this spring off the little ride park they had by the beach.

    • Appreciate the last open space on the beach. Crescent Park will be the only place we can actually see the beach from the street without paying for a room or food and drink. A volleyball is much cheaper than those rides will be. Or, move to Scotland.

  24. Personally,I will not be back to vacation until Time Square is back up and running.It was what made Fort Myers Beach!!!!

    • Seven miles of white sandy beaches, the Gulf of Mexico, an abundance of
      deep sea fishing and a balmy climate are what make Fort Myers Beach, not a Row of hamburger joints.

      • It was nice having the entertainment at all the restaurants and bars.I can get white sandy beaches anywhere along the gulf coast of Florida!Time Square was unique!!!

      • Plus dolphins, manatees, cow faced rays, tortoises, ospreys, bald eagles, pelicans, shore birds, transient birds, several kinds of crab, huge assortment of shells for the picking & yes even sharks!

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