Fort Myers backs off use of Tarpon Street Pier as public boat ramp
After hearing complaints from East Fort Myers residents, the City of Fort Myers is pursuing property adjacent to the Riverside Community Center instead of the remnants of Tarpon Street Pier for its next public boat ramp.
The city lost its downtown Fort Myers boat ramp along the Caloosahatchee River in 2017 for the Luminary Hotel development. Since then, council members have been on the lookout for a new boat ramp site.
“It's easier for them to throw something like that into a defenseless underserved community,” East Fort Myers resident Patricia Borns said.
Borns led the “Save Tarpon Street Pier Park” opposition to the council’s actions. This came after Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said that the site could feature the boat ramp.
“[Tarpon Pier and park is] not just ours, Born said. “It's everybody's asset.”
Tarpon Street Pier was once a waterfront property for locals to fish and utilize green space that was shaded by the hundred-year-old oak and mango trees. Now, after Hurricane Ian, only a small portion of the pier remains and the park is overgrown and closed to visitors.
It was decided that the city would look into the 1.35-acre property for sale next to the community center at last week’s workshop. The owner settled on a $2 million price, according to city staff.
The city did go after building on the community center, but tax-exempt bonds restrict motor facilities being provided, eliminating Riverside as an option.
In an agreement with the nearby Oasis condominium, the city acquired a public boat ramp in exchange for a development code in 2004. The ordinance is set to expire in 2024 if Oasis does not start construction on the third tower of its planned development.
Borns said there is a lack of accessible parking at Tarpon Street, making the boat ramp hard to get to.
“I want to just stop talking about Tarpon Pier because the people do not want it,” Councilperson Teresa Watkins Brown said. “I don’t think you need to put something somewhere where you know a resident doesn’t want it.”
Mayor Anderson noted the city is running out of options if they do not pursue purchasing the lot.
“Everyone knows we are running out of locations,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, this matter should have been resolved before we closed down the original boat ramp. If we can make this property work, it’s a great addition to the Riverside Center property.”
“This gives our community an opportunity to lobby the city to designate the entire Tarpon Street Pier park property as a pocket park on the new parks and recreation master plan, so it can be improved while preserving its natural appeal,” Borns said.
In 2021, there were 1.01 million recreational boats in Florida, with Lee County having 53,867 registered recreational boats, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As for what is next for the pier and park, the plans are unknown. Born would like to see restoration efforts for the pier and more public spaces for the neighborhood to gather.
This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.