Elements of Urbanism: Fort Myers

October 4, 2012 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a trip to Southwest Florida and visits a community that has recently heavily invested in the visual appeal of its downtown: Fort Myers.

Tale of the Tape:

Fort Myers City Population 2011: 63,512 (City); 631,330 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1886)

Jacksonville Pop. 2011: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Fort Myers (13,195)

City Land Area

Fort Myers: 31.8 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2011)

Cape Coral-Fort Myers: +2.03%
Jacksonville: +1.09%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Cape Coral-Fort Myers: 530,290 (ranked 78 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Cape Coral-Fort Myers: 1,605.4 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2011

Fort Myers: +15,304
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Fort Myers: Harborside Events Center (1991) - 30,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Fort Myers: N/A  
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Fort Myers: High Point 1 - 341 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Fort Myers: N/A
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

Fort Myers: Cleveland Avenue (US Hwy 41) is an arterial highway that separates portions of downtown.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Fort Myers: Patio de Leon
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Both cities have a large number of surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Fort Myers: 72 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

About Downtown Fort Myers

Fort Myers is the county seat and commercial center of Lee County, Florida. Fort Myers was one of the first forts constructed along the Caloosahatchee River as a base of operations against the Seminole Indians during the 19th century. Established in 1886, and historically known as the former winter home of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, it has become the gateway to the rapidly growing Southwest Florida region.

The Downtown district, also known as the River District, was established in 1984 as a 540-acre area stretching from the Caloosahatchee River to Victoria Avenue and from West First Street to Billy’s Creek.

In 1986, the Downtown Plan, with a 10-15 year planning horizon, was adopted by City Council. By 2001, many of the projects proposed in the 1986 plan were complete or priorities had changed, requiring an updated vision and plan. In 2001, the City selected Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) to prepare a new vision and plan for downtown. Over 1,500 citizens participated in the planning process, and the resulting plan was adopted by City Council in April 2003. The Plan stressed the need for increased residential density, creation of a pedestrian-friendly environment, streetscape improvements and mixed-use development.

By 2009, many of the Duany Plan recommended improvements were completed or underway, and the CRA began to focus on development of the largely vacant riverfront. A planning and development team led by Acquest Realty Advisors was hired to prepare a detailed plan and implementation program for the riverfront. The major elements of the plan included: a nearly 2 acre water detention basin; a convention hotel; retail shops and restaurants; expanded marina facilities; two new parking structures; a site for a new Art of the Olympians facility; and additional residential and office space. The Acquest Plan was incorporated into the Duany Plan and was adopted by City Council in April 2010 as the 2010 Downtown Plan. Please see the folder at the bottom of this web page for a complete copy of the 2010 Downtown Plan.

Downtown Waterfront

The Caloosahatchee River is an important link in the inland waterway system of southern Florida.  A subject of efforts to restore and preserve the Everglades, the river is approximately 67 miles long.

Harborside Event Center

Downtown Utility and Streetscape Improvement Project

The current crown jewel of downtown is the recently completed $52 million Fort Myers Downtown Utility and Streetscape Improvement Project, which grew out of the Downtown Redevelopment Plan adopted by the City Council on April 7, 2003.  Taking the term "streetscape" to another level, the project involved a complete replacement of all water, sewer and storm drainage systems over 54 blocks of downtown.  Streetscape improvements included new sidewalks, crosswalks, parking spaces, and enhanced landscaping with new trees.  Funded through Tax Increment Financing between the City of Fort Myers and the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency (FMRA), the four year project was completed in November 2009.

State Road 80 turns into First Street when it enters downtown Fort Myers.

First Street in Downtown

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is housed in the Whitehurst Federal Building.  The structure was originally a United States Post Office constructed in 1933.  After acquiring a 99-year lease from the City of Fort Myers, Jim Griffith and Florida Arts, Incorporated restored the building and opened the arts center on September 10, 2009.

The Edison Regency House is home to the Roetzel Andress Law Firm and Franklin Arm Apartments.

The Edison Regency House started in 1889 as the Hill House and was operated by Mary F. Hill.  Once a small boarding house, it was gradually expanded to become one of the leading hosteleries in Fort Myers.  In 1918, the building was purchased by W.P. Franklin and renamed the Franklin Arms.  In 1924, a seven-story addition containing eighty-four rooms and costing $300,000 was added.  The addition was known as the first “skyscraper” in Fort Myers.

The Edison Theatre opened in 1940-1941.  Today, the building is used as offices.

Hotel Indigo opened in downtown Fort Myers on March 11, 2009.  The 67 unit boutique hotel features a rooftop pool and fitness center, cocktail lounge, spa, three on-site restaurants and a Starbucks Coffee.

Patio de Leon

The Patio de Leon was the creation of Peter Tonnelier, a retired banker and businessman from Benton Harbor, Michigan.  Tonnelier moved to Fort Myers in 1912, and over the following few years he became the second largest property owner in Lee County.  His first purchase was the Stone Block building (at the eastern side of the patio, and as seen at the southwest intersection of First and Hendry Streets) for a price of $150,000, a cost that was considered outrageous at the time.  The patio was originally known as Tonnelier Court upon development in 1913.  By 1915 most of the buildings around the patio had been constructed by Tonnelier, and by the 1920’s the name changed to Patio de Leon.

Cleveland Street

The Seminole Gulf Railway (reporting mark SGLR) is a short line railroad located in Southwest Florida. It has two separate lines. The one line runs from Oneco south to Sarasota, with branches from Sarasota to Matoka and Fruitville. The other line runs from Arcadia to Vanderbilt Beach/North Naples, with no significant branches. Each line has one interchange point with CSX Transportation, at Oneco (with the Palmetto Subdivision) and Arcadia (with the Brewster Subdivision). Company headquarters are in Fort Myers. Seminole Gulf Railway has also operated the Murder Mystery Dinner Train since 1991. The Murder Mystery Dinner Train departs 5 nights a week, year round from Colonial Station (Colonial Blvd) in Fort Myers, FL. Holiday events, Hotel Get-Away packages and Group bookings are available.

bus station

First Street Village

Article by Ennis Davis