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NFM selected for Lee County pilot program

September 27, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

For the first time ever, Lee County is budgeting a pilot program to incentivize and attract businesses for private redevelopment in areas that desperately need it.

And North Fort Myers will be the recipient.

Last week, the Board of County Commissioners approved its 2018 budget, with $2 million going toward this program which they hope will level the playing field for economic development in an area that seemingly fell through the cracks following the recession.

Commissioner Brian Hamman made the announcement Wednesday at the North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Leaders Luncheon at the Smoke n Pit, and was excited about the opportunity the program has in helping to bring business here.

"The goal is to level the playing field between North Fort Myers and other parts of the county that have raw, undeveloped land," Hamman said. "It's easy for developers to develop on raw land because they don't have the environmental issues such as tearing down buildings or land use issues. We want to streamline the process."

Hamman said they also want to create incentives, which will be finalized in the coming months before the program is launched publicly.

Among them would be to help pay for the remediation of environmental contaminants with as much as a 50/50 split. The county will also consider contributing to the cost of knocking down a structure that is distressed or unneeded.

Hamman said it would also include faster permitting and maybe even grants to offset the costs of it.

Hamman said success with this program, which has been seen elsewhere, would possibly result in future programs in other areas such as Lehigh Acres and Dunbar, which along with North Fort Myers have been targeted in the county's Develop Lee program.

"We can do this in other parts of the county that need the same kind of attention. The program we're using here is similar to one used in Hillsborough County a year ago and has seen a lot of success," Hamman said.

Ultimately, the program goes for job creation and helping an area that has been distressed even as the economy has improved. Another hurdle still to be cleared is what the boundaries will be.

Hamman has suggested looking everywhere in the area designated as a mixed-use overlay, which run up the 41 corridors, including the downtown section, and the Pine Island/Bayshore Road area.

Those areas were determined through a comprehensive planning and zoning hearing which also took place last week.

The best part is that the money is in the budget and it's real. Residents can see what will happen, which Hamman said is a victory for the area.

"We will define the boundaries, the incentives we will allow and then we'll market it to the developers and investors so we can start developing North Fort Myers," Hamman said. "The more people hear about it, the more people will want to take advantage."

At the luncheon, Hamman also discussed the hurricane from the county's perspective, and that he was very pleased by how the county responded to it.

Hamman said by 1 p.m. Monday, the county had every main obstruction cleared on every major county roadway, even if power to many of the traffic lights were still gone.

"I never realized how much I love traffic lights. They were going back up hour after hour to the point where they had generators going at over 80 percent of the traffic lights," Hamman said. "They were playing musical generators because they were trying to keep them full. Those four-way stops just weren't working."



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