San Carlos Boulevard: for sale
It’s hard to miss the empty windows and for sale signs lined up on San Carlos Boulevard between Buttonwood Drive and Main Street.
On the west side of the road, seven of 11 parcels are either empty or for sale. Only Marine Electronics, the Moose Lodge, and Dr. David Preiss Acupuncture are open. The Fish Monger has been empty for more than a year but the building is not for sale.
On the east, buildings fare a little better: NAPA, Beach Tobacco and Goodwill are open, along with Sunnyland RV Park, Sunoco, Paradise Beach Taxi and the Shriner’s Hall. Booba’s Bar and Crossbones Tattoo and Piercing next door, however, are the only open doors in the Fort Myers Beach Plaza.
With new businesses opening up north on San Carlos and south over the bridge, what’s keeping San Carlos Island’s stretch from growing?
“It does look like a ghost town,” said Realtor Jason Padilla. “It has been difficult.”
His company, RWB Real Estate, has two properties listed in that area – Dodo’s Cheap Shop and the empty building next door. The building has been empty for years; Dodo’s Cheap Shop had a potential tenant last summer, but the deal fell through.
Padilla, who attended Beach Elementary School, remembers the shops and businesses being open when he was growing up. Most of them were service oriented, with some tourist shops and restaurants mixed in. Many of them were frequently for lease, but now, they’re switching to sale, he said.
“It all happened at the same time and you start to think ‘what’s wrong, what’s going on,'” Padilla said. But with the amount of traffic that goes through the island each day, it should be a prime location, he added.
It’s a similar story for Eric Dinkel, Realtor with Cornerstone Coastal Property, and the property at 19130 and 19150. The parcel is divided up between nine family members who have owned it for decades. Dinkel said it’s been for sale for several years with interest off and on, but no takers.
The family priced the property at $495,000, as there had been rumors of a hotel coming to the area when they put it up for sale.
“That never did come to pass, but they’re willing to hold onto it,” he said.
While Fort Myers Beach has gone “gangbusters” in recent years, Dinkel said, with property values increasing, new homes being built, and a consistent interest in redevelopment, San Carlos Island’s main drag hasn’t changed in decades. Dinkel, who grew up in the area, said he hasn’t seen new construction or a change in business along the boulevard in years, except for new homes behind.
“It is what is is, a sleepy little island area,” he said.
Meanwhile, development on either side of San Carlos Island is doing well: in the Summerlin Square area, some new businesses have cropped up after Walmart opened in 2015. Padilla, who also is selling in that area, said interest has been on the rise. While commercial development on Fort Myers Beach has been non-existent, residential is building away, and TPI Hospitality is working on its multi-use project with the town.
So for now, San Carlos Island’s piece of paradise is “stuck,” Dinkel said.
He compared the area to Matlacha, just before Pine Island. Similar in size and location, Matlacha has come into its own and became its own destination spot, filled up with artists and is arguably more interesting than Pine Island, Dinkel said.
But unlike San Carlos Island, people aren’t headed to Pine Island for the beach, since there isn’t one.
“If people are going to the beach, they pass by (San Carlos),” he said. “They just go right on by.”
Scott Sawyer, the owner of Fort Myers Beach Plaza, disagrees. He bought his building in 2001, and it was full of businesses. Traffic actually helped him out, he said – it was just as bad then as it is now, and when cars are stopped, people started looking around to avoid the boredom. At the time, when Dunkin’ Donuts anchored his plaza, it would have lines out the door.
“Traffic was always the same,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the reason.”
Sawyer’s building is occupied by Booba’s Bar and Crossbones Tattoo, both of which are healthy with customers. But the rest of the building is empty, and he’s been struggling to fill it back up since the economy crashed in 2008.
Sawyer says the climate on Fort Myers Beach has been bad for business on his side of the bridge. While residential real estate has been steady on the beach, there are plenty of empty storefronts.
“A lot of things are closed on Fort Myers Beach too,” he said. “In season it should be full. If Fort Myers Beach isn’t doing good, then I’m not doing good.”
Except for Warfield’s restaurant, which closed a few years after Sawyer purchased his property, he said he remembers most of the rest of the strip being open for business. But he’s noticed the empty storefronts too, and said he can’t quite put his finger on what the problem is.
Interest in San Carlos Island hasn’t been completely dormant. Two large projects are potentially on the horizon, but still, they aren’t on the main thoroughfare.
Ebb Tide was approved in 2009 and occupies the 36-acre area at the end of San Carlos Island, on which currently stands the Ebb Tide RV Park. This development, should it ever come to pass, would hold a high-rise, marina and 400-room resort. But, so far, it’s remained dormant.
Joe McHarris, the original planner for the project, said interest has been picking up in Ebb Tide.
“There has been a lot of interest,” he said. “The property has had a lot of people look at it, a lot of people who build high rises and resorts are interested.”
The original developers, Ray Alvarez and Daryl Hanson, still own the property and they’re still looking for someone to go in with them, McHarris said.
“It’s a hundred million dollar project, you need a joint venture,” he said. “You have to find the right person who wants to invest.”
Then there’s Bay Harbour Marina Village, a 113- condo high rise project that’s currently stalled out as the developer works with Lee County to revamp the project, which was opposed by the Local Planning Agency, Hearing Examiner, and the bulk of the island’s residents due to its intensity to the area on its 7.5 acre parcel.
The project was remanded back to the Lee County Planning Department staff at the request of the developer, and no timeline was established for when a revised plan would come forward. As of Thursday, April 6, nothing new had been turned in to staff.
Both Padilla and Dinkel had a positive projection that the stagnation would eventually come to an end. With Fort Myers Beach being built out, the only options on the Gulf are redevelopment at a higher cost and climbing property values.
“Sooner or later, someone will build something on San Carlos that people want to come to,” Dinkel said.