The Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency plans to build a 1.8-acre water basin in the River District. / News-press.com file
If you go
What: Fort Myers City Council meeting discussing the budget for the downtown riverfront development project
When: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: 2200 Second St.
Downtown Fort Myers’ riverfront expansion project came in slightly over budget – forcing the city to do away with a planned parking lot and a few aesthetic touches.
The project will bring the Caloosahatchee River up to Bay Street and under Edwards Drive, which will be converted into a brick-paved bridge. By extending the waterfront, the city hopes to attract new businesses and restaurants to the downtown River District, including a hotel that will attach to the Harborside Event Center on Monroe Street.
The city had to cut more than $340,000 from the riverfront plan, trimming the budget to almost $5.3 million, said Don Paight, executive director of the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency. The new budget will be presented to the City Council for approval Tuesday. If it is approved, construction should start in the second or third week of March and finish by September.
Among the items cut was a temporary parking lot that would have offset the loss of parking spaces during construction.
The new riverfront will do away with the Harborside parking lot and another lot on Edwards, for a loss of between 150 and 160 parking spaces. A temporary parking lot on the west side of Hendry Street near the Art of the Olympians museum had been planned to accommodate visitors until new parking garages can be built but, by not constructing that lot, the city will save $37,000, Paight said.
Another temporary lot planned for the east side of Hendry between Bay and Edwards also fell through because it would have cost too much to pave the grassy area.
Paight said the city is working on parking alternatives. Possible solutions could be turning the boat trailer parking on Edwards into normal parking, and extending parking hours in the lot under the U.S. 41 bridge near Centennial Park. Those two plans combined would generate about 100 parking spaces. The city is figuring out where else parking can be added, Paight said.
“I think we’ll be able to accommodate everybody. We may have to shift them around a little bit,” Paight said.
For Robbie Kiss, who parks in the Harborside lot when he goes into work at the downtown Starbucks, the elimination of parking spots is a concern.
“Where are we going to park?” he asked.
People who work downtown should at least have a space they can park in every day, 24-year-old Kiss said. Downtown lacks sufficient parking, especially during weekend events, he said.
As an additional parking option, visitors may soon be able to use valet parking downtown on nights and weekends. The city hopes to turn several loading zones into valet lots as early as the end of the month, Paight said.
“We’ve got almost all the details worked out,” Paight said.
Laura Clancy, 52, of Fort Myers, said she believes valet service will be a necessity once the Harborside lot goes.
“If you open the restaurants but you have no place to park, how do you come to the restaurants?” she said.
The other items cut from the riverfront budget were aesthetic, Paight said. Plans for custom tile work around the new water basin have been scrapped. Also, there no longer will be a covered pavilion, and railings lining the basin will be made of coated steel instead of more expensive aluminum.
Paight said he hopes the city can secure enough donations or grants to add these finishing touches by the time construction is completed in September.
“It’s still going to be a very attractive, useful public space,” he said.