A new and rare type of apartment complex with workforce housing in mind is being developed at 2010 Hanson Street in Fort Myers, former home of the Araba Shriners’ hall. Those buildings will be razed, likely sometime this summer, said Tom Rossi, a co-owner of Redburn Development, which paid $2 million for the buildings and the 5.7-acre site in January. He hopes groundbreaking will begin by the fall.
The Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency approved up to $8.2 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, for the project. It will be dispersed at 85% of increment revenue generated up to that amount or until 2040.
“Bloom,” the tentative name for the project, will have 336 apartment units that will start renting at $1,000 to $1,099 per month, a figure sure to rise with the average median income. Nonetheless, rents will be substantially lower than the luxury apartments that have continued to open in recent months across Southwest Florida, Rossi said.
“In Fort Myers, there’s a huge demand and not enough supply of workforce housing,” he said. “Firefighters, teachers, nurses, police officers.”
The original construction budget was $71.7 million, a figure sure to rise with inflation and supply-chain issues impacting construction.
In 2012, Redburn Development began doing these types of projects in and near Albany, New York. Rossi and his business partners had prior experience developing firefighting training equipment between 2004 and 2012. They sold that business and switched their focus to multifamily housing projects. Redburn in its current form began in 2018.
“We’re taking our property business model and adapting it to Florida,” Rossi said. Divinity Development Partners and GSI Equities are partnering with Redburn on the Bloom project.
These median-income housing projects only work from a financial standpoint with assistance from local governments, Rossi said.
“In the northeast, the trend was people left the cities for the suburbs, so you had all these old buildings, and they were just sitting there vacant,” he said. As people began migrating back to the cities, Rossi and his business partners began seizing the opportunity to redevelop old sites into new apartment complexes.
Fort Myers uses the TIF. In upstate New York, it’s called a PILOT program, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, where the projects receive lower taxes from the beginning. Redburn looks to build in transitional areas, neighborhoods that have been neglected or are aging but are located near jobs and city centers for employment, such as 2010 Hanson, which is off U.S. 41 and near downtown Fort Myers.
“You need density,” Rossi said. “And you need parking protection.” By that, Rossi means Redburn needs the city to relax its typical standards for parking. In Fort Myers, typically two parking spots are required per apartment unit. At Bloom, the city of Fort Myers gave Redburn conditional approval to have 1.5 parking spots per unit. In New York, Redburn is typically allowed 1.2 parking spots per unit.
“Every parking spot you build that isn’t used, it’s money burnt,” Rossi said.
The former Araba Shriners site was perfect for a median-income apartment project, Rossi said. “What are people going to do with this site?” he said. “It’s too big for commercial, and it’s too small for single-family homes.”