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The search has begun for what will replace Big Hickory Waterfront Grille in Bonita Springs. The restaurant, which suffered major damage from Hurricane Ian, was sold by the owners to Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District in January for $6 million. 

Estero-based commercial real estate firm Trinity Commercial Group, or TCG was hired to filter and vet the prospects for the 0.68-acre site at 26107 Hickory Blvd. TCG partner Dan O’Berski said bringing a restaurant back to the commercial-zoned property would be optimal.  

“We’ve been tasked to try and figure out what the market is and try to recapture as much, if not more, than what was invested,” O’Berski said. “And if that can be accomplished with a restaurant, or a redevelopment, hopefully with a restaurant included, that’s sort of the ideal situation. To maximize return on investment back to the taxpayer, and hopefully engage a restaurant at least on the first floor of any redevelopment.”  

While TCG fields offers for the property, the fire department seeks to improve its response time on the island. In addition to the former restaurant site, the department owns the frontage building that is being used as a fire station and is in a submerged land lease with the city for its 24 marina slips.  

The frontage building right off Hickory Boulevard reopened as a fire station on Aug. 7 for the first time since Hurricane Ian last year. Some of the docks along with the fuel system at the marina are damaged, and the department entered into an agreement with the West Coast Inland Navigation District, or WCIND, to help restore the damage.   

“WCIND has agreed because of our relationship with them and our proximity to the water, to pay for [restoration], which is about $70,000,” Bonita Springs Fire Chief Greg DeWitt said.  

Through the agreement with WCIND, the fire department will allow one of its two slips to be used by other local entities, such as North Collier Fire Rescue District or Estero Fire Rescue, as a place to refuel if needed. 

When the former restaurant site sells, the fire department will retain the rights to the entire marina but will give the restaurant full access to all the slips except for the two used by the station.  

The fire department hasn’t touched the former Big Hickory Waterfront Grille site besides securing the inside of the building, so there will be a lot of rebuilding in store for the new owner. However, DeWitt said that offers have already been discussed with locals, such as the owners of Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille and Dixie Fish Co.  

“The beach, the island, this whole coastal region has come back super strong with tremendous interest,” O’Berski sad. “So, we’re very optimistic that we’ll garner a lot of attention.” 

DeWitt said TCG is aiming to call for bids on the property within the next 40 days.  

“Our goal is to put a restaurant back in there,” DeWitt said, “but the market will dictate it. We have to do what’s best for the taxpayers.”

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