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On the cusp

North Fort Myers Neighbor Living special feature: 'Game-changing' development on the horizon

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jun 16, 2021

Crane Landing, a residential development on Del Prado Boulevard North. MICHAEL PISTELLA

With planned development projects totaling in the billions, North Fort Myers may be pivoting to take its place among Lee County’s “destination” communities.

Leading the way is a singular billion-dollar boon officials say will be a game changer for north county.

After years of planning and promises, Paradise Isle, to be built along the border of Cape Coral on the old Lochmoor Country Club acreage, got the green light from the Board of County Commissioners late last year. The development to include hotels, marina, multi-family and more is expected to be one of the crown jewels of all Lee County.

The project has been praised by county officials, local stakeholders and many of the residents nearby, who have waited for years for the old golf course to be repurposed.

“Any time you see that level of investment into a community, it will bring commercial activity behind it. Where you have high-quality units where people will live, you’ll see commercial because there will be demand for those services,” County Commissioner Brian Hamman said.

An artist’s rendering of Paradise Isle to be built just east of the Cape Coral city limit along Southeast 24th Avenue. COURTESY/HOLE MONTES

Danny Ballard, president of the North Fort Myers Civic Association, predicts properties in that area will increase sharply in value.

“It’s going to be a shot in the arm. It will spur more growth in residential and commercial. Also, for the homes along Orange Grove, those properties values will double, if not triple, in value. You may see people sell homes because of the money they can make,” Ballard said.

Paradise Isle is to be built on a 271-acre site just east of the Cape Coral city limit along Southeast 24th Avenue, north and south of Birkdale Avenue, and off of Orange Grove Boulevard.

Project plans call for up to: 1,200 multiple-family homes, 543 hotel/motel rooms; 55,000 square feet of commercial/retail; 22,500 square feet of office and 23,000 square feet of accessory health spa/fitness facilities as well as an 18-hole golf course, 200 dry boat storage slips, a 200 wet slip marina and up to 22,500 square feet for stand-alone restaurant use.

Work on the marina and golf course is expected to begin late this year, according to the developer’s web site.

An artist’s rendering of development at Merchants Crossing. COURTESY/FORUM ARCHITECTURE

It will be the only resort hotel in Lee County with a golf course, said John Gardner, president of the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.

The project is expected to come in between $600 million upwards to $1 billion and bring in more than 4,000 construction jobs. In the first five years alone, the economic impact is expected to be almost the same.

Paradise Isle also will bring in around $21 million per year in tax revenue to Lee County and approximately $7 million annually to the North Fort Myers Fire and Rescue District, where a fire station will be built in the coming years.

“It could mean more resources for North Fort Myers to serve those residents with a higher tax base. By seeing someone willing to take that risk and then have success will hopefully entice other developers,” Hamman said.

Dennis Fullenkamp, developer at Paradise Isle, said he expects to have an update in the next 30 to 60 days, when the federal and state water permits should come in. The county will not allow anything to commence without them.

Artist rendering of the crystal lagoon — a 16-million-gallon swimming pool that stretches the length of five football fields — the focal point of the Brightwater development, a planned premier gated community off Pritchett Parkway. COURTESY/METRO DEVELOPMENT GROUP

 

Merchants Crossing

In addition to its relativity new look, one of North Fort Myers most visible shopping centers is soon to be home to more than retail and restaurants.

A new mixed-use development, the first in the area, will enhance Merchants Crossing at N. Cleveland Avenue and Bayshore Road.

The old Sears building was demolished last August and more is planned on the vacant buildings all the way to Planet Fitness. The next demolition permit has been applied for.

Artist rendering of the crystal lagoon — a 16-million-gallon swimming pool that stretches the length of five football fields — the focal point of the Brightwater development, a planned premier gated community off Pritchett Parkway. COURTESY/METRO DEVELOPMENT GROUP

Flood proofing measures, updated and expanded infrastructure; construction of four new multi-family buildings with 280 units, and the addition of 6,000 square feet of new retail space will be included in this project.

“It’s kind of going to be like what you see in New York City and places like that,” Ballard said. “All those shops vacant in Merchants Crossing right now, I think you’ll see those pop back up because you have hundreds of families living there. Planet Fitness may have more business than it can handle.”

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

“We’re taking what was an abandoned plaza and bringing it back to life. Instead of looking at empty buildings you’ll be able to see life again,” Hamman said. “You’ll see market-rate apartments and they’ll also be close to commercial services. They’ll be able to go to the gym or the movie theater and be able to walk to it.”

RD Development was the recipient of a $1.7 million grant for the redevelopment of the north end of the plaza, which was part of a pilot program through the County Commission approved North Fort Myers Revitalization Incentives program.

The grant induced RD Development to undertake the $40 million project, which will produce a 10-fold increase in tax revenue to Lee County, officials said.

“We’re hoping the AMC theater will do some renovations that they were talking about before COVID. Hopefully, they can rebound because that’s a big anchor for that plaza,” Gardner said.

 

Residential projects

New developments drive commercial development, officials say, adding there are some projects under way that should do exactly that.

Brightwater, by Metro Development Group, is a premier gated community off Pritchett Parkway, one mile east of I-75 at Exit 143. Its focal point? A crystal lagoon — a 16-million-gallon swimming pool that stretches the length of five football fields. It is 200 feet wide and up to 8 feet deep.

“Metro Places feels it is the perfect opportunity to bring the first Crystal Lagoon to Lee County as an amenity for homebuyers interested in an inland coastal Florida lifestyle,” said John Afflebach, marketing director for Metro Development Group. “Metro has seen significant interest, reflected by robust website traffic and a good home sales pace.”

There are currently two builders, D.R. Horton and Maronda Homes, with additional builders expected to be announced soon. Homes start at $249,000 and are between 1,443 and 2,601 square feet. Among the many amenities are ULTRAFI Wifi, Smart Homes, Butterfly Park, golf cart paths, and miles of lush landscaping and nature trails.

Started in 2018, there will be about 1,300 homes once completed.

“We are currently building in our first phase of homesites, which will total over 250, and have just received the permit to start our second phase, which will include more than 500 homesites,” Afflebach said via email. “In addition, we’ve received the initial permits for the 5-acre Lagoon and construction has begun, although there are additional permits required in the coming months.

The total project is to be complete in five phases and is expected to take seven to 10 years.

Why North Fort Myers?

“North Fort Myers is a burgeoning area which is benefiting from the trend of homebuyer flight to the suburbs, while still being convenient to downtown Fort Myers, the airport, beaches, Caloosahatchee River, and numerous cultural points of interest,” Afflebach said via email.

Those interested can visit the community website at Brightwater.MetroPlaces.com for more information, to register for updates, and to contact the builders.

Crane Landing, promoted by Lennar Homes as located at the “gateway” between Fort Myers and Cape Coral at the end of Del Prado Boulevard, is expected to bring more than 1,000 new homes to the area. It has just started to come out of the ground, as two dozen homes are there.

Residents will have easy access to U.S. 41 as well as the Yellow Fever Creek Preserve and their miles of all-natural preserves and marked walking trails.

Homes will be between 1817 and 3326 square feet with screened-in lanais and a two-car garage.

“Crane Landing will explode and build out in a heartbeat,” Ballard said.

Kerrey Hoolihan, owner/ broker at Vision One Realty, said demand is high, especially where new developments  have waiting lists for buyers.

“The developers are taking the highest and best offers from their waiting list. You’re starting to see things go for $30,000 to $40,000 over the asking price,” Hoolihan said. “You can see the price inline and those aren’t the real prices because there’s such a demand.”

Other projects include a complex planned for near the Old U.S. 41 Pine Island Road intersection, that is in its early stages and, if developed, will offer single-family homes and apartment-style complexes.

Gardner said there is a need for more higher-end rooftops in North Fort Myers.

“We are a retirement destination for mobile home residents because it’s affordable, but they don’t stimulate the economy because they’re not working, they’re seasonal, so they go to the grocery store or the doctor,” Gardner said. “It’s paradise to them six months a year.”

Higher-end rooftops will help drive the local economy and result in commercial development in areas that haven’t seen it yet, such as Bayshore Road east of I-75.

“These projects will feed into the commercial activity we hope we will draw. Bayshore Road is a commercial corridor and one thing businesses need are customers,” Hamman said. “For new rooftops to come in, it’s what commercial businesses need to create jobs.”

After years of watching other areas in the county grow, it’s now North Fort Myers’ turn to see and feel that growth, Hamman said.

“We’re excited about the level of investment that can come to North Fort Myers and about the quality growth that will come to it. We’ve seen the rest of the county grow and the jobs and commercial activity that have come with that,” Hamman said. “North Fort Myers has lagged behind and we want economic development here and this is our opportunity for good quality growth.”

That would be good for North Fort Myers, Garner said.

“A lot of people are moving here. It’s Florida and you can’t stop people from coming to paradise. As long as we can maintain infrastructure, utility and transportation needs, we have plenty of space to build,” he said, adding there need to be some some decisions quick on east-west corridors and other things. NFMNL