Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy announces lawsuit dropped over Margaritaville
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy announced Wednesday that the latest lawsuit over Margaritaville has been dropped after his meeting with the parties.
“From what I understand, it’s going to be a voluntary dismissal without prejudice. It’s over,” Murphy said. “It’s time to move on.”
The announcement follows a tense meeting at the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council in which supporters of Margaritaville, including several local business owners and the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, called for the lawsuit to be dropped.
Supporters of Margaritaville had called for aggressive legal action to fight the latest suit brought by resident Christine Patton against the town, and called on the town to seek reimbursement of legal fees. Murphy said the agreement reached Wednesday ends all of that. Murphy said he was able to reach the agreement by “talking things over” with the parties involved.
“It means now we can get on with what we’ve been trying to do with the development of Fort Myers Beach,” Murphy said. “Now everybody can join together and move forward in a positive way to improve our community for everybody.”
Town of Fort Myers Beach Attorney John Herin Jr. said the agreement calls on all parties to settle their own legal fees as a condition of the lawsuit being voluntarily dismissed, removing the threat of the town or TPI seeking attorney fees from Patton. Herin said all of the parties agreed to the condition. Herin said this was the only condition of the agreement.
At Thursday’s management and planning session of the town council, Herin said a notice of dismissal has been issued with the court. “That’s officially over,” he said.
Murphy estimated that the construction of Margaritaville will take at least one year.
Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak said she expected the hotel to open in 2022. Liszak issued a statement on behalf of the board thanking Patton, Murphy “and anybody else involved in the decision” to bring an end to the lawsuit. “I know it wasn’t easy on them so I appreciate it,” Liszak said.
“It’s a great day for Fort Myers Beach,” Liszak said. “The town as a united entity can move forward. It’s true that a rising tide does lift all boats.”
Liszak said the business community was “very concerned with the trend and the path the community was going down. This will certainly put a lot of fears at ease.”
The legal delays over Margaritaville were troubling to some business owners already hurting from a slowdown in tourist traffic on the island due to the COVID-19 pandemic and who believe Margaritaville will improve business and bring redevelopment to the town’s entrance off Estero Boulevard. Liszak said the benefits from Margaritaville will “trickle down to every person on the island.”
Patton and TPI President Tom Torgerson could not be immediately reached for comment.
Below is Murphy’s public statement regarding the agreement:
I am very pleased to announce today that after several meetings with representatives of the plaintiff and myself in the matter of Christine Patton vs. the Town of Fort Myers Beach (filing #109979393 Twentieth Judicial Circuit) an agreement has been reached to end the lawsuit.
The culmination of this action was based upon a mutual understanding between the parties that it is time to put our differences behind us and move forward. The redevelopment of our core commerce area has been long overdue and now our residents, businesses and visitors can all look forward to the improvements soon to come on Fort Myers Beach. I am fond of the expression “a rising tide lifts all ships” and today I believe this will be the case here.
I’d like to personally thank all the parties involved in the resolution of this matter and, on behalf of the Town of Fort Myers Beach, in the spirit of cooperation, declare the dawn of a new day here on Fort Myers Beach.
Lani Kai Marketing Director Melissa Schneider said the hotel is “very pleased with the decision to withdraw and are looking forward to the continued growth of Fort Myers Beach with this great new development.”
According to Schneider, the hotel’s owner Bob Conidaris has been in support of the hotel, but had objected to the density of the project. The 254-room hotel needed deviations from the town council for its density and intensity for the site off Estero Boulevard. Without the deviations approved by the town council in 2018, Margaritaville would have been limited to 84 rooms. The bulk of the project will go on what is now Helmerich Plaza and will include six acres of commercial space.
Patton objected to the size of the project over worries about traffic near her home on Primo Drive as well as access to the beach. Her latest lawsuit raised objections to the constitutionality of the comprehensive plan’s allowance for higher density in “exceptional circumstances.”
Liszak said that those concerned about traffic should get involved in proposing solutions.
“We need some good news,” Liszak said following Wednesday’s announcement. She said the slowdown on the Beach economically is something that hasn’t been seen before due the length of time it has gone on.
“We needed something to grab onto.”