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Lee County approves incentive program for North Fort Myers

$2 million earmarked for economic development

January 24, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners last week officially ratified a pilot program that will incentivize economic development in North Fort Myers, an area that has lagged behind the rest of Lee County in regards to the economic recovery.

The BOCC voted 5-0 to approve a $2 million pilot project intended to encourage new commercial, office and industrial development and redevelopment of obsolete buildings in an effort to create jobs in the area.

Local groups heralded the news with great enthusiasm, as this program could finally spur some needed growth and create jobs.

"I applaud the county commissioners, and County Commissioner Brian Hamman in particular, for pushing the enabling legislation," North Fort Myers Civic Association president Michael Land said in an e-mail. "I believe that this program will serve as a catalyst to spur investment and improvement to this key area of North Fort Myers."

Commissioner Brian Hamman, who has rallied behind the program in his district, said Tuesday was a great day and a potential game-changer.

"It's the beginning for the community and the private sector to take advantage of the program to develop North Fort Myers," Hamman said.

Hamman said he hopes that within the next year they can start to bring awareness to the program that the land use changes have been made, a new regulatory environment has been created and that there is money to help level the playing field for development.

"We're hoping within the next year we see a lot of projects go through the process and we can begin developing North Fort Myers," Hamman said.

The incentive is called mixed-use overlay, and is in locations where more intense development is encouraged for commercial and residential development.

This is a reimbursement-based incentive program to be paid after a project is completed.

According to the proposal, projects may use a single incentive program or even qualify for more than one program.

A private-to-public investment ratio of 1:1 or higher is required if only one program is utilized, and 5:1 if more than one incentive program, or stacking, is utilized.

There are certain limits and eligibility requirements, but developers will be reimbursed for half the cost in fee assistance, demolition of old structures, infrastructure improvement, flood proofing and exterior, and up to 20 percent of total costs for keystone projects.

Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis and grants will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.

The areas that apply include much of North Cleveland Avenue from the bridge to Littleton Road, Diplomat Parkway, Hancock Bridge Parkway, and Pondella and Pine Island roads close to U.S. 41, Business 41 on the north corner of Pine Island and Bayshore roads and from the Speedway station to the bridge.

Hamman said one of the key incentives is the infrastructure, especially in areas where there is no sewer and water. Having the county pitch in for half the cost is an important component to the program.

This could bring in new development for things other than retail. With the urban land use and the amenities like transit and water and sewer in many areas, it makes the area a prime location for business.

"Many of the buildings that have been abandoned that were formerly used as retail may not be used as retail in the future, but there are great opportunities for office or other commercial entities," Hamman said. "We want businesses to open up and thrive here."

Land said he was most interested in the Keystone Projects (such as malls and large up-scale buildings), which could give the area destination points.

"I am hopeful that this will encourage a blockbuster project that will anchor and inspire this entire area," Land said in his e-mail.



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