FMB Awaits: Will Town Officials Greenlight the Future?

by Richard Luthmann

 Fort Myers Beach urgently needs more hotel rooms, revitalization, and economic activity. If the remaining bureaucratic challenges are cleared, two major ventures will be set to address these needs.

The FMB Local Planning Agency (LPA) approved the new Myerside Resort plans. The 49-unit boutique hotel will be built on Estero Boulevard next to the library. The initiative now awaits two public hearings before the Town Council on June 3rd and June 17th. If the council approves, securing the necessary permits will take 8-10 months. Construction could begin in late 2025, with an opening projected for the summer or fall of 2027.

The community has supported the Myerside Resort due to its appealing concept. LPA Chair Anita Cereceda praised the layout, stating, “The work that your team did with the design of this project minimizes [an overpowering] impact dramatically.”

The resort will feature 45 resort units, four live/work units, and 9,000 square feet of retail space, including a 2,250-square-foot restaurant. The step-back construction approach reduces the visual impact of the building’s height. This layout addresses concerns about building height and density. The proposed structure will be 50 feet tall, with a “zoned height” of 37 feet to comply with FEMA requirements.

Beverly Milligan and co-owner Rolland Weinmann are requesting a 30% reduction in the required parking spaces, seeking approval or 60 spaces instead of 90. They argue this will not significantly impact the area’s parking situation.

Milligan and Weinmann have owned the 1.03-acre property since 2015. Before Hurricane Ian, the site hosted seven cottages with 12 units, a pool, a tiki bar, and a volleyball court. The hurricane destroyed most of these cottages, leaving only one standing.

The owners had secured rezoning from Residential Conservation to Commercial Planned Development, allowing for hotel, retail, and restaurant uses while preserving the historic cottages.

The Freeland family, owners of Moss Marina, are pushing forward with their Arches Bay-front entertainment district despite setbacks. The project envisions three hotels totaling 420 rooms, a 900-foot waterfront walking path, restaurants, bars, and storefronts. The estimated cost is between $150 million and $200 million.

Last month, the LPA denied their request to change the land-use designation from marina to pedestrian commercial. The refusal stemmed from concerns about the venture’s impact on the neighborhood and island residents. LPA Chair Cereceda expressed hesitation, stating, “I would love to tell you yes, but I can’t support the request.” She explained that grant-ing the designation change without knowing the specific rezoning requests felt like writing a blank check.

The Freeland family has owned the marina since the 1980s. Hurricane Ian destroyed four of the marina’s six buildings, leaving the remaining structures, which are over 40 years old, needing significant updates. The proposed Arches Bayfront aims to revitalize this area and create a vibrant entertainment district. 

Ben Freeland, the marina’s owner, remains optimistic despite the setback. He plans to return to the Town Council and LPA with a detailed proposal. “If we feel like we still have the support of the Council, in general, then we’ll move forward,” Freeland stated. If the land-use designation change is not approved, he plans to improve the existing marina facilities.

The Myerside Resort and Arches Bayfront projects promise to bring much-needed hotel room inventory and economic activity. Both developments have garnered community interest and support.

The upcoming public hearings for the Myerside Resort will determine whether the venture can proceed on its proposed timeline. The Arches Bayfront development must overcome rezoning challenges to move forward. The outcomes will depend on whether local officials support these initiatives and help bring them to fruition.

Will the Town Council and LPA recognize the potential benefi ts and clear the remaining hurdles? Or will bureaucratic red tape stall progress and delay revitalization? These decisions will shape the future of Estero Island and its ability to recover and thrive post-Hurricane Ian.