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Developers see Fort Myers Beach as a "modern luxury flip-flop community": Moore about Business

Topping off ceremonies were held Friday at the Margaritaville Island Resort on Fort Myers Beach.
Tom James
Topping off ceremonies were held Friday at the Margaritaville Island Resort on Fort Myers Beach.

In the annualCCIM Real Estate Outlook Conference this past January, I sat in a room full of commercial realtors and developers listening to some speakers on the rebuilding of Fort Myers Beach. The session comprised Margaritaville Resort developers Tom Torgerson and John Dammermann, of TPI Hospitality, and Stan Stouder, founding partner of CRE Consultants. You could have heard a pin drop, as they shared their vision for a redeveloped Fort Myers Beach.

First, John Dammermann provided an update on the Margaritaville project, especially after Hurricane Ian.

"You know, the recovery is going to take a long time. Certainly, we want to be a part of that recovery for the entire island. Fortunately for us, our three newly constructed buildings all held up fairly well, had no structural damage," said Dammermann. "I’m happy to report that we are now back to our pre-Ian construction workforce and we continue to make progress."

Tom Torgerson shared the TPI vision for Fort Myers Beach, which thanks to Ian, has now been accelerated.

"At the time of Ian, we were already into probably a three to four decade organic redevelopment of the island. I don't think I would have seen that in my lifetime," said Togerson. "But one of the positive parts of Ian, is that it sped up that process in about a 5 year plus or minus timeframe. So four decades, down to five years, plus or minus.

He continued, "Here are some things that I believe we are going to experience in a short time frame, this 5+/- year timeframe. We will all see a new ground-up barrier island beach town. A new one, activated by commercial development in quality and taste equivalent to Mercato. All modern residential and commercial architecture. Demographics will be high, in terms of energy level, people, and wealth. Real estate values to challenge those on a square foot basis of Naples."

"Estero Island will be a Caribbean-like island with the comforts and safety you only find in the USA, no passports required. A modern luxury flip-flop community, a paradise,” said Torgerson, calling out to the rest of the audience, "A new gold rush is on in Southwest Florida, please come join us and participate."

Stan Stouder also spoke. He has lived on the island and is a commercial realtor for CRE Consultants. He said that Fort Myers Beach has a chance to start over with a clean slate

"I do you believe that Fort Myers Beach will become a playground for the rich. I have some sadness towards that. I'm from the Midwest. And Fort Myers Beach, as compared to Sanibel, as compared to Naples, has always kind of been a place where people from the Midwest, that were middle class, that could come and afford to take their families for a week or two vacation. And I'm concerned that may away." Stouder continued, "I liked Tommy's comment about a "flip-flop paradise." Fort Myers Beach defined itself as funky. I hope that through the comp plan and through the ensuing iterations and development that we can continue to have that. But, it will become a playground for the rich."

Stouder also addressed the issue of affordable housing, focusing on the trailer parks adjacent to Fort Myers Beach.

"From McGregor Blvd. to Mantanzas Pass bridge, there were seventeen mobile home parks. In those mobile home parks, there were around 5000 units. In those mobile home parks today, there are less than 1000 that still remain. It's really, really sad. Those mobile home parks are homes to retirees, they were homes to service personnel. They were a less expensive rent for people who provide goods and services to hotels, motels, restaurants and could afford to stay."

Souder doesn’t anticipate that many of those people will return, especially with new building codes that will require properties to be raised above flood elevation. While sad about it, Souder said it could be an opportunity, given that the hurricane provided a clean slate or a do-over.

"When you lose 4000 or 5000 that are in close proximity to a barrier island, I believe that's two things. One, it's a tragedy and two, it's an opportunity. He said that affordable housing could possibly replace retail areas like the Sanibel Outlets. But the mobile home parks could be turned into something else. "Those properties, many of them are larger in acreage, 20 - 30 acres lots, they're going to reframe the entryway to Fort Myers Beach."

Stouder encouraged the audience to keep an eye on the evolving land use plan from the Town of Fort Myers Beach as building codes change as a result of the hurricane.

"We're already seeing the town of Fort Myers is renovating. Their comprehensive land use plan, that's a herculean task over a period of years, they hope to have that done by 2023 years. And it's essential because it will cast the die for how the island will go forward and where those things will happen", he said. "As professionals in real estate in this room, I would encourage you, if you have any interest in Fort Myers Beach, that you read these iterations as they come forward. There will be public hearings and you become vocal about what you think might be best for that island."

Likely, the old Fort Myers Beach rustic charm is going to go away. TPI has already purchased additional properties contiguous with the Margaritaville resort, the grand opening of which is slated for late 2023.

Read the full article in the latest edition of Southwest Florida Business today. More business stories can be found here.