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Uncertain future looms ahead for events at Lee Civic Center


The Lee County Civic Center Complex’s future is up in the air after a two-hour discussion between Lee County Commissioners and residents over managing the property.

With the management agreement between the Fair Association and the county set to expire on Sept. 30, commissioners warned that operations might change going forward.

4-H events and the 100th Lee County Fair are confirmed as activities to take place at the 100-acre site for 2024, but events like the Fort Myers Gun Show are not yet set.

Commissioner Mike Greenwell was vocal about wanting the agreement with the Fair Association to expire to continue with the needed improvements.

“We aren’t closing or stopping 4-H,” Greenwell said. “We’re trying to make it safe, and we’re going to, hopefully in the future, make it bigger and better -– not hopefully, I believe we will. We are going to have a fair. We are not shutting down those kinds of things. We just need to fix the facility to the point where we can have those things.”

A study that evaluated all 14 buildings on the property determined that the site is in need of over $23 million in renovations to address safety hazards and long-term improvements. The Civic Center alone is in need of over $15 million for repairs.

Because of the needed repairs, Lee County has been looking for ways to manage the site and justify the repair costs, an idea that was proposed by the late Commissioner Frank Mann.

“It is old and worn out,” County Manager Roger Desjarlais said. “It is 100 acres of incredibly valuable property. No matter what happens, I would recommend that we continue along with the process for redevelopment in the not-too-distant future.”

At the last board meeting on April 4, commissioners voted to make immediate repairs to the Civic Center building. Additional repairs are underway for the Tinsley Pavilion, Davidson House, three barns and the Grand Pavilion to continue with ongoing 4-H programs. They are estimated to be completed by April 14. Costs will come out of the existing county budget.

“We have not done a lot for our 4-H program,” Greenwell said. “That needs to change. It’s an embarrassment to me and for the county to see the facility and the condition it’s in. They deserve better than that. They deserve a state-of-the-art facility just like our little league team…”

While some are wanting a pause on the partnership, Fair Manager Fran Crone expressed that there are other things to consider if the county allows the agreement to expire.

“If [the county] chooses to let it sunset, does that mean the Fair Board has to have all of their property removed from the grounds by Sept. 30,” Fran Crone asked the commissioners. “The Fair Board owns every table, every chair, every computer, every desk, every wrench…The county owns nothing except the shell of the buildings and the property. These are details that have to be worked out when making this decision.”

Commissioners asked staff to prepare an agenda item for the April 18 meeting to continue the larger discussion of the property’s management.

“For 27 years, [the Fair Board has] been a great partner,” Fair Board Director Randy Crone said. "We can be great partners as long as [Lee County] wants us to be. It’s about what is good for the community, and I think that we should work together to continue to be great partners.”

A form is available to share comments and thoughts with Lee County about the Civic Center through their website. Equestrian trails, an amphitheater and a gymnasium are some of the ideas listed as improvements on the form.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at  rjhazel4249@eagle.fgcu.edu