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Lee County commissioners support Arches search mission

By Staff | Nov 27, 2019

One day after the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council dismissed an idea to recreate the historic Arches at Crescent Beach Family Park, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners directed staff to help search for a new site to place the arches.

Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass is leading the initiative though some of his fellow commissioners acted with more skepticism and trepidation at their Nov. 19 meeting.

The Board voted 5-0 to direct staff to work with the Town of Fort Myers Beach and Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches on finding a site for the arches.

“Preserving history in Lee County is really important to me,” Pendergrass said. He said “the problem is there is no consensus, there is no consistent message.”

Lee County spokesperson Betsy Clayton stated that county staff will work on locating a potential site on Fort Myers Beach or San Carlos Island for the Arches.

While the commissioners were united in having staff look into the project, they appeared less so of how much resources they are willing to invest in the Arches. The proposal at Crescent Beach Family Park had an estimated price tag of $75,000 which would have come from county tourism funds.

Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Brian Hamman said “I will just be right up front from the very beginning. I do have problems with the idea of us funding it. I don’t have necessarily have problems with providing land for it.

“Great example, we have an art association in North Fort Myers that’s trying to get themselves off the ground, they are a great group they have come to me several times though looking for both land and potentially money to build a building on that land. I know we’ve worked with them about some county land that we have that we don’t have any planned future uses for that may be a great opportunity for them to locate their facility. But I would stop short of providing them the funding to build that building and I don’t know how I would be able to tell one group we would provide funding but another group I wouldn’t be able to provide funding.”

Pendergrass stressed that he wants a small area with a small monument, to memorialize the arches. No park improvements or beach improvements are part of the current plans he is putting forward, he said. The county would fund the work but Pendergrass said he didn’t want to put a dollar figure on it since “we don’t know if based on material if (the Aches) is going to be 10 feet or 30 feet and how high.”

The proposal at Crescent Beach Family Park was for a recreation of the historic Arches spanning approximately 60 feet wide, which is just a fraction of the 104 feet it originally stood.

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais told the county commissioners that staff would come back with updates and options as they consider different properties.

Pendergrass had put the original proposal on the table to place the Arches at Crescent Beach Family Park before resistance from the town council led to its delay and ultimately to the board formally rejecting the site being used for the Arches.

The Arches stood on San Carlos Island for decades, serving as an iconic concrete and stone entrance to Fort Myers Beach, before being torn down in 1979 to make way for the Matanzas Pass Bridge.