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The family seeking to build Arches Bayfront entertainment district, where Moss Marina sits on Fort Myers Beach, hasn’t given up their plans despite being denied a needed change to the town’s future land-use plan. 

Ben Freeland, owner of the marina, said he will return to Town Council and the Fort Myers Beach Local Planning Agency with his request to change the land-use designation and with his detailed plans for the project. 

The town’s planning council turned down his request last month to change his property designated marina to pedestrian commercial.  The Freelands are caught in a Catch-22 situation where they can’t proceed with rezoning until they get the changed designation. 

The planning agency, however, voted 4-2 against the change because it didn’t know what kind of rezoning requests Freeland will make. It also is concerned about how the project will affect the neighborhood and island residents. 

Arches Bayfront rendering“I would love to tell you yes,” said Anita Cereceda, LPA chair, “but I can’t support the request.”  

She said she struggled with her no vote but was concerned changing the designation was a blank check on what can be developed even though the project would have to go through rezoning. 

She called herself part of the “old guard” and was concerned how such a large project would affect the people living around the project.  

Freeland said the defeat was more of a procedural setback. 

The Freeland family has owned the marina since the 1980s. Hurricane Ian destroyed four of the marina’s six buildings in September 2022. The remaining buildings are more than 40 years old. 

The Arches Bayfront plans call for three hotels totaling 420 rooms, a 900-foot waterfront walking path, restaurants, bars and some storefronts. 

The project would cost between $150 million and $200 million, Freeland said.  

He talked with Council and LPA members before he unveiled the project and almost everyone supports something better on the property, he said. 

“How they like the exact plan we have is another question,” he said. “They might not like the height or there may be too many rooms. 

Arches Bayfront rendering“Those are things we work through and see if we can come to a mutual resolution.” 

If Freeland can’t get the designation change he will make improvements to the marina.   

“I told them from the beginning, if they weren’t interested in this just let me know,” he said about meeting with town officials. “I didn’t want to swim upstream is how I worded it.” 

When he received almost unanimous support he put a development team together, heard from the public and came up with a plan.  

“We thought we had a good starting point to have discussions,” Freeland said. “And that’s kind of where we are. If we feel like we still have support of the Council, in general, then we’ll move forward.”

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