Leoma Lovegrove will be closing her Matlacha art gallery. Then the renowned artist will spend the summer taking a break and getting ready for a new gallery to open in late summer or early fall in downtown Fort Myers.
Lovegrove, who had been in an 800-square-foot wood-frame gallery off Pine Island Road in Matlacha since she and her husband bought that property in 1998, signed a five-year lease to relocate to 1415 Dean St., adjacent to Ford’s Garage restaurant on First Street in Fort Myers.
After Hurricane Ian devastated Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, Lovegrove put the Matlacha gallery property, which includes an art studio and a guest house with canal access, on the market for $2.5 million. But she recently reopened it for a few weeks. It’s been open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., despite still not having running water or power, and will close at the end of the day Monday, April 17.
The Dean Street location, a former office space, has been gutted and is being renovated to become Lovegrove’s new art studio and shop. It will have 2,800 square feet of space, more than tripling in size from the previous setup.
Lovegrove will have a stage inside for live painting exhibitions and her own personal studio facing the street, so people can watch her paint. She said about 98% of her original paintings survived Ian, as they were safely in storage. Those will be on display and for sale in the new store she hopes to open by the end of August. “We’re [eager] to get in there,” Lovegrove said. She and her husband moved to North Fort Myers, and they can see the downtown skyline from their window. “I would have liked to have been in there for season. But we knew from the get-go we wouldn’t be able to. I’m really excited to be downtown. I just couldn’t believe all the life down there. And the restaurants. And of course, they have the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center.
“We’re looking forward to that huge space. It’s a whole new venue for us. It’s a new market. It’s an expansive market because of the travelers coming into the convention center. Downtown has always been on the upswing.”
As for the Matlacha property, there has been some interest, said Char Seuffert, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Sunshine. But Lovegrove won’t just sell to anyone, Seuffert said.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from developers, but she wants to maintain the integrity of it,” Seuffert said. “She loves Matlacha with all her heart, so we are talking to developers who would keep the actual art gallery, and she would license to do revenue sharing. Then she would be able to continue to market from Matlacha. A lot of people have been giving her grief about it. That she is selling out. But she will always have a presence in Matlacha. Always.”
Lovegrove said depending on how things play out, she could return to the Matlacha gallery in addition to having the one in Fort Myers.
“I haven’t abandoned Matlacha,” Lovegrove said. “It’s such a big part of my life. I would go back. But I’m not giving up Fort Myers. That’s the dream space for me. I paint large, and it’s a great audience and easy to get to. They don’t have to wait 45 minutes with that traffic on Pine Island Road. I can’t think of any reason not to go downtown.”