Michael Land called it the most important meeting for North Fort Myers this century, and the community came as if it was just that.
Nearly 100 people filled the seats at the North Fort Myers Community Center on Thursday for the annual town hall meeting, sponsored by the North Fort Myers Community Planning Panel.
Many of those who came wanted to hear what has been in the making for the past 16 months - the findings from the $50,000 study Lee County authorized - as well as what is in the works in general, both in the short- and long-term.
Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman, Rachel Busch of the Lee County Economic Development Office, and Dan Eveloff of the Horizon Council all spoke about the state of North Fort Myers and how the area could be in the future, especially in the downtown area between the 41s from Pondella to the river.
Also on the agenda was Bob Konior of Lee County Code Enforcement, which was considered one of the most important aspects in bringing the area to where it needs to be, and Mike Pavese, who laid out the plans for the new library expected to be completed in about two years.
"It's good to see so many people take an interest in their community and all these folks want to see things get better," Hamman said.
The main part of Hamman's presentation regarded the lack of sense of place of the area, and it was something that could be solved with the creation of a water taxi across the river so people in North Fort Myers can go to downtown Fort Myers and vice-versa.
Hamman said it would prove successful, especially for people who don't feel like waiting 45 minutes to eat at a downtown restaurant and find taking the boat an "outside-the-box," great idea.
Not everyone was convinced. Ashley Bennett said the difference between Fort Myers and North Fort Myers was night and day and that the choice between downtown nightlife and an ice cream parlor, however good the ice cream is, doesn't produce an even trade.
Hamman said there is plenty to offer, and that the time has come for something in North Fort Myers that will bring people here, that the time for inaction has to end for the area's sake.
"We have to use the success of downtown and see if we can play off that synergy to create success in North Fort Myers," Hamman said. "Things don't always get done as fast as we want them, but if we're pleasantly persistent, we'll get it done."
Busch discussed the findings of the study, and what needs to be done to make those finding come to life.
"It's not about bringing in a Disneyland, but what makes sense, what would be successful there. To say 'Build it and they will come,' that doesn't make sense," Busch said.
One of the biggest challenges is that there are 280 parcels, of which 233 are occupied, with 200 separate owners. More than half are residential.
Busch said redevelopment won't happen one parcel at a time. Developers want a large area to create Camelot.
Despite that, they are projecting more than 400 condos and 220 rental units could be absorbed into the area, which could create some retail or dining opportunities.
The challenge is most of the retail has moved out of North Fort Myers and no anchors are interested in coming with all the availability in Cape Coral.
Busch said there is the potential for as many as 8,000 new jobs and the need for about 320,000 square feet of office space, which she called very optimistic.
"There's a lack of office space to meet the demand of the growth occurring in the area," Busch said. "These are long-term projections that are going to take many years. This area didn't evolve into what it is overnight and the projections won't be filled overnight."
Among the other challenges are the lack of east-west connection in the study area, the almost empty Hancock Square Shopping Center and water retention issues, and public access to the waterfront, Busch said.
"That is your crown jewel. How can you maximize that asset that many people would kill for? You need to capitalize on that," Busch said.
The study can be viewed online at leecountybusiness.com