The city of Fort Myers is set to officially do an about-face on its intent for the property at 2442 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which for more than four decades served as home of The News-Press newspaper.
The city council likely will approve Monday permission to advertise the property to developers to transform the site into whatever comes next. It paid about $9.2 million in December 2019 for the 170,000-square-foot space and what had been an abandoned fire station next door with the intent to transform them into a new police station.
After the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Southwest Florida real estate values skyrocketed, and combined with a change in elected officials and a new city manager, thinking on the property’s future shifted.
“We need to see what interest there is,” Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson told Gulfshore Business, explaining he wants to explore alternative sites for a future new police station. “The land has gone up in value since we purchased it. We need to see if there’s a better project to put there instead.”
“Realistically, it’s going to be north by several million dollars for sure,” said Fort Myers City Council member Fred Burson, who is also a real estate broker. “We want a return on our investment. One thing about a Request For Proposal is it doesn’t force you to sell it. It lets you know about the interest.”
Interested developers must tour the properties at 10 a.m. May 27 or 10 a.m. June 2 before a July 1 deadline for submitting their proposals. The properties will be sold as is, which means the purchase price would not include demolishing the buildings.
The properties are on about 12 acres at the corner of MLK and Fowler Street, with a parking area heading due south in a rectangular shape for about 100 yards along Fowler. There’s a large warehouse in which rolls of newsprint used to be stored and another warehouse area from where the papers were loaded onto cars and vans for early morning distribution. It also includes a cavernous area on the west side of the property where the printing press used to operate prior to being dismantled and removed.
The News-Press leased the building back from the city after the sale but vacated it entering 2020, now printing its paper on the east coast.
The east side of the property has office space on two floors, a small conference room downstairs and a large one upstairs. There also are dozens of back rooms that once were used by the advertising, marketing, human resources and production sides of the business.
The buildings were designed with the purposes of writing, printing, distributing and monetizing the newspaper, a practice the internet began disrupting in the mid-2000s. Now, the buildings are obsolete.
The demolition would cost about $1 million, said David Mulicka, who has done such work as the owner of Honc Destruction for the past 20 years. Mulicka gave the eyeball estimate while making it clear he has no inside knowledge of the former site of The News-Press and whether it has environmental issues such as asbestos, which, along with other complications, would drive up the demolition price.
It would take four to eight weeks to evaluate the property prior to demolition, Mulicka said, followed by 90 to 120 days to tear it down.
“The scope of the work depends on what they want to keep,” Mulicka said of the future owners. “Some demolition projects are able to reuse underground utilities, parking and landscaping. A lot of these things are customer-driven, based on the client’s needs for the future project. That’s why the numbers could only be purely speculative. I have done no plans and made no evaluation of this.”
Then there’s the question of the property’s current value and what it could become next.
Stan Stouder, founding partner of CRE Consultants, looked at one recent sale in the vicinity as evidence that the price for the property could be quite a bit higher than the $9.2 million, which amounts to $54 per square foot, the city paid for it.
“It is my opinion that the city did not overpay for the property in any case, especially in light of the surrounding investments others are making in the immediate vicinity,” Stouder said.
An old barber shop at 2649 MLK, next door to Willie McCarter’s rib smoking business, sold for $475,000, or $220 per square foot, last month.
“I think 2649 MLK is an anomaly,” Stouder said. “It sold for way more than I thought it would.”
Parts of The News-Press site have an industrial look, but it is currently zoned for commercial intensive and commercial general, not industrial.
“The city paid about $54 per square foot for those properties,” Stouder said. “Barring some bottomless environmental cleanup, I’d take $54 a foot for that property. That’s a good value.
“You have a large building in an urban location with industrial features. I think that’s high-level, high-altitude real estate. Maybe they can make some money off this thing. The next step is what’s the highest and best use? I don’t know. Maybe the highest and best use is to doze it and convert it into some sort of residential use with retail and office. You’ve got to do the math to do that.”
Loft apartments with offices, retail and restaurants to support both the tenants there and the downtown business crowd seemed to be a great option for future uses, Stouder said.
One comparison on the potential price of the land is West End at City Walk. The 7.8 acres on which the Fort Myers apartments were built sold for $7 million in February 2018.
Phil Fischler, the owner and broker with Fischler Property Company, managed that deal. Fischler expected The News-Press site to sell for at least $1 million per acre, more than the City Walk site.
“I would expect it’s going to trade between 12 and 15 million (dollars),” Fischler said. “Long-term, that’s an amazing location. I look at that as a gateway location for our city. It’s a great opportunity for someone to create a landmark development. It has huge potential. I love the site. I can’t wait to see what happens there. Once you clean up the site, it’s a great development opportunity for a sophisticated developer.”
Matt Simmons, a property appraiser with Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons, declined to speculate on the value because he has assessed the property in the past for the city. But he has been vocal about the city finding a different home for its next police station and a different purpose for The News-Press site.
“I’m glad the city is looking at a different direction,” Simmons said. “That piece of property is the crown jewel of Midtown. It is the front door to downtown when people drive down. That’s a very valuable piece of property that can contribute heavily to the tax base.”
Read more on the development of Midtown Fort Myers in the March issue of Gulfshore Business.