Close this search box.

Log in

Top Stories

A 36-acre parcel has been leased since 2000 from the city of Fort Myers to a private company with the intent to attract new business to Fort Myers. But the land at 5600 Lee Blvd., if sold, could reap profits for the private company, not the city. 

Public records show Johnston & Johnston LLC is partly owned by Rick Johnston, who is former Fort Myers Mayor Jim Humphrey’s son-in-law and current council member Fred Burson’s stepson. 

Burson confirmed his relationship to Johnston and said because of that he would recuse himself from voting on any measures pertaining to the property. 

The Lee Boulevard property and the issues behind it again was going to be on the city council meeting agenda Monday, June 6, at city hall, city spokesperson Liz Bello-Matthews said. But the item did not appear on the agenda, leaving the land in further limbo.

“The optics is that they’re trying to sell city land for a profit before they even own it,” current Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson told Gulfshore Business. “I don’t know how they can do it.   

“I can’t say this with any degree of certainty, but I’m anticipating some pushback from the council on that.”  

Anderson said he heard Farmer Joe’s grocery store had inquired about building a second store there, similar to the store off Pine Island Road in Cape Coral. Farmer Joe’s founder Lee Snyder could not be reached for comment.  

The 2018 version of the lease and the December 2021 motion by the city council both show the city would sell the land to Johnston & Johnston for $2,584,945. This amounts to about $71,000 per acre, as it was appraised in 2016 before real estate values began to soar across the region.  

Just 3,000 feet to the west, on the west side of where State Road 82 and Colonial/Lee Boulevard intersect, 54.6 acres of land recently sold for $21.5 million, an average of $394,000 per acre.  

“I don’t recall it that much because I didn’t really participate in the agreement,” former Mayor Jim Humphrey said. “It began before I started as mayor. I do know it indirectly, because one of the Johnstons married our daughter. So that’s when I started withdrawing from everything on that.”  

Humphrey said he recused himself from voting on anything to do with that property. 

In 2012, those agreements between the city and the company continued under former Mayor Randy Henderson, public records show. Johnston & Johnston LLC received a lease extension of up to 39 years to do construction-related activity on the site.  

“I’m too far removed from it,” Henderson said of the current situation. “If they don’t have their T’s crossed and I’s dotted, it could be a problem. This is more of a legal question than anything. I really don’t know what it means.  It was just another of thousands of contracts that we did, if it was just a lease agreement and they had ownership of lease and so forth.”  

In May 2018, Johnston & Johnston was allowed to continue using the property at no cost, providing they purchased the land from the city within 180 days, public records show. The city council was supposed to vote in December of last year to extend the closing date until February, which didn’t happen. 

Today, the land appears to be overgrown with trees, bushes and brush with no apparent construction activity happening. The only apparent activity on it is the presence of two Carter-branded advertising billboards. The land has a Lehigh Acres address and is sandwiched between a RaceTrac gas station to the east and the Olympia Pointe community to the west. A Fort Myers city limit sign is also to the west of the property.  

Trinity Commercial Group, an Estero-based real estate brokerage company, recently marketed the land, putting out a call for offers with an April 15 deadline. The marketing brochure shows a grocery store, a 300-unit apartment complex, three retail parcels and a self-storage parcel could be built by developers who purchase the land. TCG broker Dan O’Berski declined to comment.  

Rick Johnston did not return numerous calls seeking an explanation.  

At a city council meeting Dec. 6, the agenda included shifting ownership of the land from the city to Johnston and Johnston LLC. That action, on the agenda for the sixth time, again was delayed until at least Feb. 7, and continues to be delayed.  

Just to the north of those 36 acres are 106.55 more vacant acres that meet up with Buckingham Road. In 2007, the city submitted a planned unit development on that land to build a community park on 24.41 acres, a plant nursery on 15.93 acres and a water reclamation project that could process 12 million gallons of water per day on 16.31 acres. The remaining 41.57 acres were to be used for water retention, green open space and preserves.  

None of that development by the city ever happened.  

Henderson said he recalled hearing an estimate, perhaps as high as $100 million, to build the water reclamation project, which he said the city just couldn’t afford.  

Fort Myers city staff members were unavailable to discuss why the planned unit development never happened as the city continues to struggle with water shortage issues. 

Copyright 2024 Gulfshore Life Media, LLC All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written consent.

Don't Miss

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Please note that article corrections should be submitted for grammar or syntax issues.

If you have other concerns about the content of this article, please submit a news tip.