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Sears building coming down

By Staff | Aug 5, 2020

The Sears building at the Merchants Crossing Shopping Center comes down Friday. PHOTO PROVIDED

The demolition of the old Sears building at Merchants Crossing Shopping Center is under way.

Much of the building has been demolished, with bulldozers taking it down from the back and moving forward.

Before long, the long-vacant building will be gone, soon to be replaced by a mixed-use development that is set to continue the transformation of North Fort Myers and produce a more than tenfold increase in tax revenue.

The demolition is part of a project that consists of the demolition of vacant buildings all the way to Planet Fitness, flood proofing measures; updated and expanded infrastructure; construction of four new multi-family buildings consisting of 272 units; and the addition of 6,000 square feet of new retail space.

The project also will include an integrated walking path that will connect the residential area with the commercial.

“This is a great first step. It’s a day we’ve been waiting for since before I ran to see the abandoned buildings come down and new development get started there,” County Commissioner Brian Hamman said. “Knocking the buildings down is a clear sign of moving forward.”

Under this project, RD Management is estimated to pay more than $1.3 million in fees and demolish more than 150,000 square feet of existing vacant commercial floor area.

The only occupant in the demolition area, the Area Agency on Aging, is moving.

In March, the BOCC approved a $1.7 million grant through the Develop North Fort Myers program, toward a $40 million redevelopment project at the plaza. The grant was part of a pilot program Lee County created in 2018 to incentivize development in North Fort Myers.

The incentive grant will be disbursed in phases on a reimbursement basis for work completed.

Of the $1.7 million grant, $1.4 million is for a Keystone Grant, making for a signature development in the area. Additional grants of $100,000 are for demolition and infrastructure, and two $50,000 grants will be for flood proofing and fee assistance.

“This was part of the vision when we created that pilot program two years ago, that we would see some of those buildings come down and land be reused for a better purpose,” Hamman said.

This project will deplete the money from the pilot program. Hamman said they are open to new ideas to rejuvenate North Fort Myers. Hamman said he would encourage the owners of Hancock Bridge Square to work with the county.

In May, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners extended its grant agreement with a company tasked with redeveloping the plaza, RD Management, after it sought a timeline extension as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic. The development order plan needs to be submitted by August 31.

The Merchant Crossing development is expected to sharply increase the county tax base from what it has been in the past.

“In 2019, the property taxes in Merchants Crossing was $33,760. With the new multi-family development, when complete, the value of the homes will be $31 million and the estimated first-year tax bill will be $508,000,” Hamman said. “That clearly brings value to the community and brings us more money to serve it.”