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3D imaging will raise Fort Myers Beach Arches again

November 29, 2018
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A long gone symbol of Fort Myers Beach will soon be reborn with the help of digital imaging technology.

Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches has invited a group from the University of South Florida to create a 3D image of the structure's remaining stones.

"All we're trying to do is improve the beach by bringing back a part of our history," said Steven Ray McDonald, leader of the group.

Article Photos

Steven Ray McDonald stands with pieces of the Fort Myers Beach arches. He believes he has found a third of the original structure, much of it in the backyard of the contractor who originally demolished it.


The stone arches, constructed in 1924, used to straddle San Carlos Boulevard and Main Street, but were torn down in 1979 to make way for the Matanzas Pass Bridge.

McDonald, who was a teenager at the time, said that residents didn't know it was going to be demolished until a month prior, and barely had any time to rally support to save them.

The town and the contractor agreed to take the arches down in pieces so they could be reconstructed, but the subcontractor didn't get the memo in time, and tore them down with a wrecking ball.

The modern movement to reconstruct the arches began on Facebook in early 2016.

McDonald and fellow resident Paul Sessions began searching for the lost pieces of the arch, rumored to still be scattered about the island.

They believe they've found a third of the original structure.

"The contractor that was paid to destroy them took the pieces to his yard, and that's where they've been since 1979," said McDonald.

He's invited a team from the University of South Florida's history department to create a 3D image of the arches from these salvaged pieces.

"When that contractor took the remains of the arches to his yard, he kind of stacked everything up on top of each other, and to do the 3D imaging, we need to lift that stuff up. So that's why we call it 'Raise the Arches'. We're raising the arches for the first time since 1979," he said.

Using laser equipment often employed to reconstruct archeological sites, the team will collect dimensional data of the arches.

McDonald hopes to overlay this data onto original photographs of the arches to see exactly which chunks they've found.

Then he'll incorporate that data into engineering plans for the new arches.

It's not possible to recreate them exactly, he said, because the Matanzas Pass Bridge is too large for the original design.

Though the group would like to see the arches resurrected in their original location, they're also looking at other potential options in case it's not possible.

"What we're trying to do with the engineering plan is make a generic arch that can go anywhere on San Carlos Boulevard. Any part with the median in the middle and four lanes," McDonald said.

Though the group's Facebook page currently has 898 members, the project is struggling to get onto a county agenda.

In January this year, they submitted a request for Lee County to direct a feasibility study by FDOT, but were denied.

"There are significant efforts currently taking place regarding the planning of San Carlos Boulevard improvements, Matanzas Pass Bridge improvements and the continuation of construction along Estero Boulevard. Given the significant unknowns related to each of those components, it just is not the right time to try to program the arches into the discussion," wrote Assistant County Manager Douglas Meurer in an email to McDonald on Jan. 26.

The group started a petition in May to submit to the county. It currently has 329 signatures.

"All we're asking for is feasibility. We're not even asking them to fund it or do it, just look at it and tell us if it's something they can do, and let us worry about raising the funds," said McDonald.

They are about $1,900 short of the $5,000 they need to pay for the 3D imaging, which is being done on a student field trip.

They're not being charged for labor, but they do have to pay the cost of processing the data.

On Jan. 26, they will host a poker run fundraiser called Ride the Arches. It will start in Indian Creek Plaza, and participants will ride to various venues, like Bonita Bill's, Castaway's, and Gulf Coast Motorcycles.

"You go to each location and you get a card, and at the end of the day, whoever gets the best seven cards splits the pot," said McDonald.

The group also hopes to hold their second annual Rock the Arches festival in May.

The 3D imaging will take place on Monday, Jan. 21, and McDonald said anyone is welcome to volunteer to help with the digging.

"We're hoping there will be some excitement generated with everybody seeing what's left of the arches," he said.

For more information, look for the Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches group on Facebook.



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