Development around JetBlue Park in question for a decade; fans weigh in
Acres of trees and a few storefronts surround JetBlue Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox located on Daniels Parkway east of I-75 in the Fort Myers area.
The stadium opened in 2012 and some Lee County leaders and developers predicted JetBlue would ignite a building boom. Some expected the area to have hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. However, in the past ten years not much new development has occurred near the stadium.
Before the Red Sox moved their training to JetBlue, the team used City of Palms Park located on the edge of downtown Fort Myers. Some fans miss the previous 1993-2011 location because of how developed and lively that area has become.
“I liked the facility downtown because there was just a better atmosphere outside of the stadium,” Sergio Zabala said. “Now it's just the stadium and nothing else.”
Zabala travels two hours from Tampa to see the spring training games. With all the years that have gone by, he says he is not sure if he would even want to see development of the area at this point.
He did acknowledge that developing the area would be beneficial to the people who are travelling to support their favorite team.
“It will make a difference for families and a lot of folks that do come from further away,” Zabala said. “They have to stay far away when they visit because there's nothing here. There's no development around the park.”
Other fans agree.
“Clearly development would be awesome,” Red Sox fan Jessamy Finet said. “If there was a bar five minutes away, which around any baseball game, especially in Boston, you have several bars because it's good for pre-gaming and post-gaming.”
Finet lives in Boston and she said she's been visiting the Fort Myers area since 1999 to see the spring training games.
Since JetBlue Park was designed to replicate Fenway Park in Boston, the development of the area around the stadium would only contribute to a better atmosphere that some fans said they want.
Finet said further development would be good from a fan's perspective, but she can see how some year-round residents may not want to see that. That's because other areas nearby, like Gulf Coast Town Center on Alico Road, already are highly developed.
“Since we've been coming down to spring training, that whole area did develop,” Finet said. “So, I can only imagine it's going to keep getting better.”
In 2018, the Red Sox discussed the development of nearly 20 acres in front of JetBlue Park on Daniels Parkway. At that point in time nothing was concrete, but discussion of retail, restaurants, and active entertainment occurred. According to an article by the Fort Myers News-Press, another possibility for development was the construction of hotels near JetBlue stadium. Hotels could provide housing for the team's players during both regular spring training and an extended spring training for players recovering from injuries.
Some people still anticipate the construction of hotels near the stadium.
“I would want a Red Sox Hotel for the players and fans,” said Ais Darrell, a worker from one of the food stands at the stadium. “A lot of people come to support them so I think they will make a lot of money if they make a hotel.”
While many people would anticipate further development of the area, others feel differently.
“I feel like it's not necessary, because we already have plenty of shops and restaurants, especially since Gulf Coast Town Center is about ten minutes away from the stadium,” resident Selena Young said.
Young said that the development of the area should be aimed at improving the lives of people who live here year-round, rather than just becoming another tourist destination. But Young also said she can see how the lack of development in the area can let down the people traveling to support their teams.
“I feel like I’d be disappointed if I was a fan not from the area because they're tourists,” Young said. “We all know, in a general sense, tourists love tourist things which are bars and restaurants and everything.”
JetBlue Park is located near Gateway, a 3,000 acre master-planned community, and the international airport, making it an ideal location for development to attract tourists and visitors.
Lee County Communications Director Betsy Clayton said that the Red Sox own most of the development rights around the stadium. It’s unknown whether there will be development happening anytime soon, but there are fans and residents who are eager to see if expectations from a decade ago will become reality.
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