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City of Palms Park in Fort Myers

The Counselors of Real Estate Consulting Corps, a six-member team and part of a nonprofit organization with about 1,000 members, advised the city of Fort Myers and a group of about 50 stakeholders to be diligent with their real estate assets in the Midtown area.  

CRE released its report Tuesday and presented it during an evening workshop at the Collaboratory, which served as a liaison between CRE and the stakeholders.  

Cassandra Francis, who led the CRE team, advised the city to give City of Palms Park one more chance for a limited time of two to three years as a sports destination. Built by the city in 1993 for the Boston Red Sox, it has sat mostly vacant since 2012, when the team vacated it for the then-new JetBlue Park at Fenway South complex in south Fort Myers.  

Other than Perfect Game, a youth baseball organization that holds games there, and Florida SouthWestern State College’s baseball and softball teams, which relocated this year to an on-campus home, there hasn’t been a regular tenant or a regular draw there in more than a decade.  

“If they demonstrated a significant effort, it could turn into an amazing asset,” Francis said, noting many other municipalities she has evaluated wished they could have a sports stadium near its downtown. “Once you tear down the ballpark, it’s something you can’t get back.”  

The ballpark would need some renovations if the City Council decided to go that route, City Manager Marty Lawing said.  

“Probably 50 to 100 seats would need to be repaired,” he said. “There are some things with the roof, and having the locker rooms – a lot of work would need to be done. We’ll see if it’s a priority the council lands on.” 

CRE’s report also recommended making further investments in the nearby Skatium, which has an indoor ice-skating rink and an indoor, multipurpose sports court, because of the boost the facility gives to the city’s quality of life.  

Moving the Fort Myers Police Department out of its current location also would help connect the Midtown area to downtown, giving more developers another piece of land on which to build.  

The city has been looking at an alternative site at the corner of Market and Fowler streets. The site had been planned to become an apartment complex called Aldea, but landowner Randy Krise said rising interest rates and construction costs prompted him to try and sell to the city for the police department for $9 million.  

The former News-Press site, at the southwest corner of Fowler and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, should have an interim use, such as fire and rescue training, a community garden or a place for the arts until a national developer submits a suitable plan to redevelop it, the CRE report said.  

The city should court companies specializing in education, technology and innovation to purchase that land, Francis said.  

“An authentic, vibrant, urban community … a neighborhood where opportunity thrives,” said one of the bullet points displayed during the CRE’s 90-minute presentation.  

Courtney Pogue, another member of CRE’s team, stressed the importance of team building and being proactive to accelerate growth and development in Midtown.  

The recommended priorities to get started were being proactive, building the team, knowing the market, setting the tax increment financing process and leveraging incentives, meaning requiring public benefits for public investment such as housing attainability, density, art and infrastructure.  

“It goes back to the first couple of bullet points we were talking about,” Pogue said. “Being proactive. Having those people here today was part of being proactive, the first step of the engagement process. The second step being building a team. There’s a collaboration that’s entailed in that process. It goes back to, what do you envision as success for the area?” 

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