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Arches group loses state grant request

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 6, 2021

The remnants of the arches could be on their way back to Fort Myers Beach, at Bowditch Point Park, based on discussions with Lee County Government staff and the Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches organization. / File Photo

In a decision that found the scaled-down replica version of the Fort Myers Beach Arches proposed for Bowditch Point Park was not historical enough, a $3,000 grant request by Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches to fund part of the work was rejected by the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources.

A five-member panel gave the project mixed reviews, with three of the panelists finding that the scaled-down nature of a single arch that would use some of the original stone of the Arches which dates back to 1924, was not a historic preservation project given that the original Arches was 26-feet high and spanned 104-feet wide. The newly proposed arch would be about 20-feet wide.

The location of the replica arch at Bowditch Point Park was viewed negatively by panelist Joseph Munroe. The original arches were located on the other side of Matanzas Pass Bridge about a mile away.

In fact, the construction of the Matanzas Pass Bridge resulted in the Arches being demolished.

“A site plan showing the proposed location would have been helpful,” Munroe stated. “Photo details of existing walls/materials would help also. I appreciate the passion expressed but have concerns about the connection of this to the road gateway that was removed 42 years ago.”

Bowditch Point Park has been selected by Lee County as the future site for a small replica of the Fort Myers Beach Arches. / File photo by Nathan Mayberg

Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches President Steven Ray McDonald wrote in a letter publicizing the decision that he felt as though his group’s “compromise” with Lee County Government and the Town of Fort Myers Beach to reduce the size of the replica led to the panel’s denial.

“It is a shame, we tried for 5 years to get a 100% replica and/or a scale model of the Arches rebuilt as close as possible to where it was/as it was. We tried working with FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation), Lee County, Town Of Fort Myers Beach and it didn’t come about.”

Back in 2019, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners had considered support for utilizing county tourism tax dollars to fund a larger replica of the Fort Myers Beach Arches but that didn’t have the support of the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council. The estimated cost at the time was $75,000.

The estimated cost of the smaller replica is $40,000 with the Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches group hoping to raise most of the funds through a “Rock the Arches” concert next year in Fort Myers Beach at the Lani Kai Island Resort in Fort Myers Beach.

McDonald wrote that “we do not harbor any ill will against any of the government agencies for doing what they thought was the right-thing. It is just a twist of fate and another setback to our group.”

The Fort Myers Beach Arches was constructed in 1924 and demolished in 1979 for the Matanzas Pass Bridge.

The group is also fundraising by taking donations for etched bricks that will be placed at the Bowditch Point Park site. The replica arch could still go up at the park as early as next year.