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TPI Hospitality cuts Seafarers out of plans

March 22, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After TPI Hospitality's attempt to land swap with the county was shut down, the project has been redesigned.

Now, the Times Square Resort project sits entirely on its own property.

TPI's Tom Torgerson had originally hoped to trade the county a piece of TPI property at the base of Matanzas Pass Bridge for part of the county-owned Seafarer's property, for value in-kind. For the swap, land at the foot of the bridge would become public property for future traffic improvements and the resort would get to face Estero Boulevard. However, the county said it will continue to use Seafarers as a construction site.

So instead, Torgerson has developed what is now the third version of the design for his properties. The hotel will stay entirely on TPI's property; a conference room and meeting center will be built at the base of the bridge, where there is a parking lot by The Light House currently; and the hotel pool has been eliminated - before, resort guests were going to pay to attend the "beach club" across the street, now will be an amenity of the resort.

John Gucciardo, TPI spokesman, said the beach club will still be open to the paying public.

The new plan also adds a second pedestrian overpass from the resort to the meeting center and a third floor to the Gulf-side bar and restaurant for hotel rooms.

Fact Box

A look back

August 2004: Hurricane Charley hits; Sandman Motel, Howard Johnson Inn and Day's Inn close.

September 2010: Lee County purchases Seafarer's and Crescent Park property.

April 2011: Lee County razes building on Seafarer's.

April 2013: County reimburses $900,000 to the TDC for the cost of Seafarer's property, releasing the property from TDC development restrictions.

August 2013: The Town requests the county to turn over Crescent Beach Park's development rights to encourage development nearby. The request was denied.

November 2015: Tom Torgerson purchases properties and unveils Grand Resorts plan.

January 2016: Town approves recruiting a consultant to serve as a special projects coordinator with Torgerson.

April 2016: Torgerson drops Grand Resorts plan and compiles a focus group of opponents to develop a new concept.

November 2016: TPI Hospitality unveils new, less-intense concept, Times Square Resorts.

December 2016: Torgerson attempts application to the town; town staff rejects the application as incomplete because county was not listed.

March 2017: Torgerson pledges to submit Times Square Resort application with all development contained on his property and a redesigned site plan.

The combined hotel rooms for both the main resort at the base of the bridge and the penthouse rooms across the street is 292.

TPI also eliminated an area toward the back of the original plan, which was potentially going to be a transportation hub. No agreement had been reached with LeeTran, but now, it's completely off the table.

"We had to change that for the entrance,valet area, which is a shame, but..." Gucciardo said, letting the sentence hang.

County Attorney Richard Wesch, however, said the county "hadn't seen" any kind of proposal from the developer to initiate a land-swap discussion.

In late fall 2016, TPI requested that the county enter onto the application to the Town of Fort Myers Beach as an affected property owner so that the developer could submit an application including potential Seafarers use. The county declined.

TPI then attempted to make application Dec. 13, but town staff had to deny the application without the county's name listed.

Gucciardo said TPI plans to submit this current application this week.

The new plans were discussed during the March 14 Estero Island Taxpayers Association, which held a town-hall style meeting with District 3 County Commissioner Larry Kiker.

Many in attendance asked Kiker what the county's plans were for the Seafarer's property, currently covered and fenced in with construction equipment.

He said a deal with TPI wasn't necessarily off the table from his perspective, but there wasn't many places for the county to store construction equipment for the Estero Boulevard project for the next several years.

"There are two choices, the county right-of-way down the whole boulevard, or at Seafarers," he said.

Kiker also said the county would have worked with the developer before if TPI's project had shown that it would have a overall positive public use effect: mitigate traffic, provide parking, and provide additional pedestrian and bicycle safety.

The first revision of TPI's plan included parking on a re-routed Canal Street, a potential transportation hub, a pedestrian overpass from one side of Estero Boulevard to the other, and a pedestrian-only beach access. The newest renderings retain the overpass, beach access and the rerouted Canal Street with paid parking for the town.

But Kiker said real conversation never happened since Torgerson didn't make an application.

"He bought some property and he's been kicking ideas around ever since," he said.

As far as a land swap would go, Kiker said the option wasn't "a closed door," but the developer would have to make an application on his own merit.

After the meeting, Gucciardo said he was "surprised" by comments from the county.

"I thought it was a missed opportunity, I'm not sure how realistic it is to put Seafarers back into the mix," he said. "But, I'll take the commissioner at his word that there may be an opportunity."

Torgerson said in an email that he plans to make an application to the town, sans county land, approximately March 24.

Jane Plummer, a member of the Local Planning Agency, attended the EITA meeting to hear what Kiker had to say about the Seafarers property. She's afraid to see the plaza go to waste as a "pile of dirt" or to see the town miss an opportunity to get something in return for Torgerson's project.

"People need to understand, there are development rights. He has a right to build on his property," she said. "This is a time for us to get something, too."



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