Alico Road, once a two-lane strip of gravel leading to rock quarries and dirt mines, has been transformed into a bustling highway—an economic yellow brick road filled with high-end offices, apartments, hotels, large warehouses and big-box retailers. “It’s the centerpiece of the county’s economic development efforts,” says John Talmage, director of Lee County’s Economic Development Office.
The road has become a boulevard of fulfilled dreams, a portal to Southwest Florida International Airport, Interstate 75, Gulf Coast Town Center and Florida Gulf Coast University.
One out of every three jobs in Lee County, and one in four in Southwest Florida, will be in the Alico corridor—roughly defined as the space bordered by the airport to the north, Alico Road to the south, Treeline Avenue to the east and U.S. 41 to the west, Talmage said.
The road wasn’t always a job magnet. It was barely a road as late as the 1980s. It gets its name from Alico Inc., which owned much of the property east of Ben Hill Griffin Parkway. The road ran parallel to the railroad spur that ran for 5 miles east to the rock and quarry pits.
Lois Thornton worked for 10 years at her father’s shop, Liggett Custom Cabinets, off Alico. She remembered it being a gravel road when she left in 1985. But that gravel road stood in the path of Southwest Florida’s perfect storm of growth.
Lee County’s population growth moved south; Collier’s moved north. “It’s where Bonita and Collier begin to blend in with south Lee,” says Stan Stouder, founding partner in CRE Consultants.
Derek Bornhorst, president of Lee & Associates Naples-Fort Myers, specializes in industrial and commercial real estate. He’s seeing a demand from Collier County because it’s difficult to find land there, available land is expensive and existing buildings are older and don’t have the higher ceilings, truck parking and turn-around areas today’s businesses are seeking. Alico Road is the closest area north that can offer what the businesses are looking for, he said.
Pravada Private Labels, a manufacturer of skin care products, moved from Naples to Alico Business Park in September 2022. The company had moved to Naples in 2015, but outgrew its building by 2018. Founder and company president Marlene Thompson couldn’t expand the building, so she started looking north to be closer to the Fort Myers market. “We were told it could potentially become a bit of an industrial hub, especially given its proximity to the airport,” Thompson says of Alico Road.
Pravada, similar to many other companies that moved north, said it was a plus to be closer to its workforce; most of Thompson’s workers were driving from Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral to Naples. Lee County drivers have some of the longest commutes in the state, 45 miles each way, something Talmage said the economic development office is trying to change.
Extending Alico to state Road 82 by the end of the decade should help cut commute times for people driving from Lehigh, making companies located along Alico even more attractive.
“That Alico extension out to 82 will be even a bigger game-changer,” says Matt Price, CEO of Seagate Development Group, which has been a busy player in the Alico corridor. It moved its offices from Gateway to Alico Road in 2020. “We wanted to plant our flag there,” Price says.
Seagate designed and constructed two of the buildings that greet drivers exiting to Alico from I-75: NeoGenomics and Scotlynn Transport. In 2021, Seagate joined the gold rush of developers, builders and real estate speculators purchasing property along Alico—extending from the interstate west to Domestic Avenue.
Geis Company joined the rush about the same time, buying the Centro Apartments that were being built next to I-75. It then purchased a 32-acre site to the west, where it built two 250,000-square-foot warehouses.
There were no institutional investors in the market in 2020, Geis Company President Conrad Geis said. That has changed; they’ve discovered the corridor.
It is one of the few places where large tracts of land are available in Southwest Florida for corporate headquarters, giant warehouses and big-box retailers, said Mike Maurer, a broker for William Raveis. His company is marketing 34 acres at the northeast corner of Alico and Three Oaks Parkway, near the Floor and Decor store.
Alico Road property certainly wasn’t always the hot spot it is today. Seagate’s Price said much of the land being developed had sat vacant for years. He credits Alan Freeman for what’s happening today.
“He had a vision for what it should be,” Price said. “I think because of him it became what it became, as opposed to just another industrial center.”
Talmage calls Freeman the godfather of Alico Road.
Freeman’s family developed San Carlos Park in the 1950s and ’60s, as well as the Three Oaks community in the 1980s and ’90s. Freeman began buying land on the north side of Alico in the late 1980s and continued buying through the early 2000s. The county’s comp plan called for the property north of Alico to be for commercial use.
Freeman started putting in roads during the recession and started development projects about five years ago. His plan was for high-end offices (NeoGenomics) and health services (Frantz EyeCare) hugging the interstate; the area farther west and north off Alico was for warehouse, distribution and logistics centers (California Closets, Rice Insulation & Glass). He called for gas stations (Wawa), take-out restaurants (Wendy’s) and small retailers closest to Alico.
Today, buildings are being leased and sold as fast as they are being built.
Talmage, Lee’s economic development director, in July counted 25 buildings under construction between Domestic and I-75 and a mile north to the canal near the Briar Cliff community. That area is attracting a mix of businesses, some local, some regional and some national. Amazon’s two large warehouses are the most obvious national companies, but there are others. Maurer expects more companies to build headquarters along the corridor, probably Fortune 1,000 companies, and regional companies are moving to the corridor to play catch-up.
“I think we have a big enough population now that we’re no longer a small, tertiary market,” Price says. “We’ve hit a population level now where it’s becoming impossible to service our community from Tampa, Miami or Orlando anymore. Companies must be in the community to serve you.”
Ten-8 Fire and Safety is one of those companies. “Customers pretty much demanded it,” service manager Heyward Chestnut says about why the company opened in Lee County. Based in Bradenton, Ten-8 sells and services emergency vehicles. The Alico Road building covers Lee, Collier, Hendry, Charlotte and Glades counties, Chestnut said. It will be moving to a larger, nearby location soon.
My Shower Door/D3 Glass are local companies that moved in 2019 from an older, smaller building to a 60,000-square-foot home on Domestic, behind Amazon. Owner Bill Daubmann said he is thinking about building a headquarters for My Shower Door and My Architectural Glass on property he owns on the south side of Alico.
Alico’s transformation is far from over. The ITEC Business Park east of Ben Hill Griffin Parkway has 2.4 million square feet of space. Gulf Landings Logistic Center, just north of Alico, huddled between the airport entrance, the interstate and Ben Hill Griffin, will add 2 million more square feet in the next few years.
“It already looks different than it has in the past,” Bornhorst says. “I feel like it’s even going to look a lot different than it does today in the next 24 months.”
A different look deserves a different name, Freeman said.
“At this point, that road should be called something like Central Lee Parkway or Research Boulevard, or something like that,” he says. “It shouldn’t be called Alico Road. It doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t resonate.”
Alico Corridor projects under development
Alico Crossing: MPD to include 475 units, 200,000 square feet commercial use and 250 hotel rooms
Alico Medical Center: 12,800 square feet commercial building and 60,000 square feet three-story building for medical/dental office use
Three Oaks Distribution Center: MPD 600,000 square feet commercial and 600,000 square feet industrial
Alico Oriole West: Rezone 30 +/- acres from AG-2 to MPD to allow 350,000 square feet of commercial, retail and industrial use
Town Place suites
Vintage Commerce Center
The Home Depot
Gulf Coast Logistics Center
Alico Road has more personalities than Sybil. It covers 13.3 miles; part industrial, part commercial, part retail, part mining, part residential, part agricultural and part Old Florida.
The road itself has turned into one to avoid during morning and evening rush hours, as lumbering dump trucks and Amazon-logoed semis hint at Alico’s past, present and future.
Traffic numbers back up its reputation for long lines and slow-moving traffic. In pandemic year 2020, 25,800 vehicles a day passed Alico east of U.S. 41 compared to 21,700 in 2012, according to Lee County traffic counts. In that same year, 49,600 vehicles passed daily west of Interstate 75 compared to 27,200 in 2012.
Alico Road from U.S. 41 to Domestic Avenue
This portion of Alico Road was developed first, and it shows. Older industrial companies dot the road, often with little landscaping to camouflage the large equipment and infrastructure.
The newer manufacturers and industrial parks have nicer entrances, modern signage and more attractive buildings. New plazas have popped up along the road, giving small businesses and restaurants attractive places to call home.
Domestic Avenue to Interstate 75
If the first 2 miles was Alico’s past, this mile and a half is Alico’s future. The warehouses and distribution centers, such as Amazon, Clive Daniels and Robb & Stuckey, are substantial and come with the bells and whistles not available elsewhere.
Large office buildings, big-box stores, health services and apartments follow the road to the interstate. A gas station, fast food and other smaller retail business are beginning to front the road.
I-75 to Ben Hill Griffin Parkway
The distance might be short, but the road is busy. It’s the entrance to Gulf Coast Town Center. Restaurants front both sides of the road. Hotels, a big-box store and some offices stand behind them.
Ben Hill Griffin Parkway to Corkscrew Road
This section is the road less traveled so far, but that will change during the next decade when the county extends it to state Road 82. About 8,900 vehicles traveled east of Ben Hill Griffin in 2018, the most current traffic counts available.
The county widened Alico for 2.4 miles to ITEC Business Park, which has more than a million square feet of space. The homes on the south side of the road give a glimpse of the future.
More residential communities, such as Miromar Lakes, Esplanade Lake Club and Wild Blue, will be built when it becomes more profitable to build communities than dig for dirt.
Cement producers, dirt mines, a little bit of agriculture and plenty of vacant wooded land dot the road as it turns south and reaches Corkscrew Road. It’s not everywhere you see long, steel tracks resembling a steel roller coaster on the side of the road.