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Council Wants 90 Days to Review Seafarer’s

03/28/2011 at 7:16pm

Council Wants 90 Days to Review Seafarer’s


On Monday afternoon, the Town Council held a Special Meeting to respond to the county’s recent announcement that it plans to move forward with the demolition of the Seafarer’s Mall building. In a letter dated March 22nd, Commission Chairman Frank Mann stated the county’s intention is to discuss the issue at the Tourist Development Council meeting on April 8th and to make a final decision at the commission meeting on April 12th.


Before getting in to the Seafarer’s discussion, the council agreed to allow the Fort Myers Beach Fire District to use council chambers for their union negotiation sessions, scheduled for Friday, April 1st at 9am (District 3) and Tuesday, April 19th at 9am (District 15 and supervisors). Upon invitation from the council, the District already uses council chambers for their commission meetings and workshops.


"We have labor negotiations every 3 years and since this makes up 80% of our budget, it’s very important for the public to come see what happens so they’re aware of what the issues are,” said Chief Mike Becker. "I think it would bring a lot of clarity to what’s going on with the District.”


Mayor Larry Kiker pointed out that the meetings will be televised, and again encouraged the Town’s other Special Districts – the Mosquito Board and the Library – to make use of their facilities.


The mayor then began the Seafarer’s discussion by explaining that he and Town Manager Terry Stewart - who council asked to serve as their representatives in negotiating with the county for the Town to take over the property – were under the impression that the county was not going to move forward with demolition until those negotiations were completed.


Lee Melsek then spoke on behalf of the Civic Association.


"It is our position that the county follow through with their promise and tear it down and we hope this town isn’t going to get involved with the business of retail, parking lots or restaurants as we don’t feel the government should be involved with that,” he said.


Kiker pointed out that the number one reason the town had been interested in the property is to find out if the purchase could help the traffic situation.


"When we asked for an engineering analysis as to whether or not something could be done to Estero, the answer was that it is ‘achievable’,” he said. "The promise was made by Commissioner Ray Judah that if the Town saw a need for something other than parking lot, then we’d have input into that, but I think the door’s going to close sooner than later.”


Most of the council has toured the building in recent days - including Councilman Joe Kosinski - who put together a recommendation for his collegues.


"To reuse that building, the obstructions would be tremendous,” he said. "With the new FEMA codes, the ground floor would be useless, and, on the second level, the main roof framing is all wood trusses which is a firetrap waiting to happen. The most appropriate action would be to push to get it taken down.”


Councilwoman Jo List asked about purchase through shared revenues from a parking lot - with a piece of the Town’s worked into an escrow account for future ownership.


"However, just one level of parking seems like a poor tradeoff - by sharing revenues it would take us a hundred years to take it over,” she said. "I do think the Town should own that property. I live in that neighborhood, and it’s 50/50 among my constiuents as to whether they would like to see it taken down or revamped.”


Mayor Kiker had a different viewpoint than the rest of the council, saying he thinks that part of the property can be salvaged.


"What I saw when I went there was two buildings,” he said, "The building on the right was built in 1989 and has concrete beams and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. On the left - where Dusseldorf’s used to be – needs to come down.”


"So what happens if we say yes - take it all down? We have issues with accesses – the only way to access the property is to go down Estero, do a U-turn and come back. The other thing is, you take that down what are you going to see? A parking lot, with a parking lot behind it, and an old tattoo parlor that no one uses.”


"I asked how long it would take to get permitting and they said 18 months - ‘if we go really fast’,” he continued. "Saying yes does not mean they are going to go in, bulldoze and open up shop tomorrow. I don’t think knocking a building down and then walking away from it fixes every little thing.”

Kiker pointed out that the Town pays $100,000 a year to rent Town Hall, and suggested that instead of paying rent, the Town pay a mortgage.


"If you knock Dusseldorf’s down, that could be used as parking,” he said. "There’s 25,000 square feet available in that building. I don’t like being pushed into this.”


Councilman Alan Mandel said he sees tremendous potential for both the Seafarer’s property and the property behind it, such as a possible public/private partnership with a developer.


"If we own it, we could be in control over what happens to it.”


Kiker reiterated his position that the top priority for both the beachside and building properties should be to find a way to fix the traffic issues, and expressed frustration with the county’s lack of mobility on fixing a road they own.


"When you look at the billions spent on roadways throughout the county, it’s time we get our share!” he said. "Now that we own property on both sides, you can’t tell me that we can’t do anything.”


Stewart reminded the council of a discussion held shortly after the county purchased the property where the town asked to keep their options open and the county agreed to begin negotiating.


"It took them a little over two months to figure out who was going to do the negotiating,” he said. "We had a conversation to lay out the process, and asked them to provide us an intitial offer. That took place on February 8th, and we’ve yet to receive any kind of offer or terms and conditions. If the county has concerns that they’re trying to work through, okay, but we’re right back where we were before - I don’t understand why there’s this impetus to demolish.”


Kosinski said he thinks that Town ownership of the property has long term potential, and recommended that the council ask the county for 60 days to look into options.


After being asked by Vice-Mayor Bob Raymond, TDC member and long-time island resident Fran Myers addressed the council.


"I will speak as a private citizen – not as a representative of the TDC,” she said. "My husband, Tom, and I used to own the building where Dusseldorf’s was. When the state was building Matanzas Bridge, we offered it to them for $250,000 but they turned it down so Estero Boulevard had to go around the property like it does now.”


Myers did say that the TDC has not been a part of this decision, and that she thinks the Town’s bigger problem is not the Seafarer property but the property behind it.


"Those buildings are more dilapidated than Seafarer’s and the property owner wants about $25 million for it,” she said. "As far as contamination - there was an Exxon station there, but before we built we had to clean it all out.”


Finally, the council agreed to ask the county to delay a final decision for 90 days, during which time Kiker would ask Mann to work together with town and county staff to resolve the issues with the Seafarer’s building, as well as the other county-owned properties on the island.


Keri Hendry