Fort Myers City Council voted to not move forward in negotiations with Bruno’s of Brooklyn for the purchase and redevelopment of the former Fort Myers Fire Station at 2404 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Bruno’s of Brooklyn submitted a proposal in response to the city’s request for proposal for real property disposition and development of the former Fort Myers New-Press office and the industrial flex complex site.
Calcedonio Bruno was the only one to respond to the city’s request, proposing a mixed-use project that will include a restaurant, an upscale retail space, and apartments that can function as living and working spaces. Council shot down the proposal by a 5-2 vote Monday, with council member Liston Bochette and Mayor Kevin Anderson both being in favor of proceeding.
Bruno has been a resident of the city for a decade and his restaurant has been open on Second Street in downtown Fort Myers for eight years.
“This is not a guy that’s looking at pictures of the fire station on the internet in New York City,” Bruno said. “I’m here, I pass in front of that every day. I drop my daughter off every morning, I drive home every night. So, I look at it and I say this could be something really special.”
While Bochette put emphasis on the process being procedural, other council members expressed concern with moving forward, as the city itself doesn’t know what it wants to do with the future of the area.
Council member Johnny Streets was the first to voice concerns regarding breaking up the site, as Bruno only had interest in the fire station as opposed to both the station and the former News-Press building.
“I think it’s still a little premature for us to go ahead and enter into negotiations before we know what’s going to happen with that site,” said council member Darla Bonk, adding she would like to see and hear what the Counselors of Real Estate assessment is from a nonjudgmental, unbiased viewpoint of what the highest and best use for the area is.
The Counselors of Real Estate is an international organization of high-level, credentialed real estate problem solvers, with a team called the Consulting Corp., which is a custom, select team of professionals that address complex real estate challenges faced by nonprofit and government entities.
The Consulting Corp. is in Fort Myers to assess the midtown/downtown area of the city, ultimately providing actionable recommendations to advance complex, long-term real estate development challenges and to best leverage real estate assets.
Aside from Bonk, council members Terolyn Watson and Fred Burson also wanted to wait to hear back from the CRE before moving forward.
Bruno’s proposed purchase price for the site was $450,519, raising discussion regarding the appraisal price of the property.
“Even if we were to parcel it off, for me to do it, I’ve got to be able to sell it at its appraised value, not 35% or 40% of appraised value,” Burson said.
Despite not moving forward with negotiations, the Bruno family was commended for their involvement and respect for the city, considering the success of their existing restaurant, their work on the landmark historic house at 2300 McGregor Blvd. turned into a state-of-the-art, modern flex workspace with tenants and a food truck park project currently under the permitting process.
“There’s no question about the legitimacy and the authenticity of Bruno and their family and the impact they have on not only Fort Myers, but in Southwest Florida,” Bonk said. “They definitely have come in as strong assets.”
Burson echoed Bonk’s comments on the Bruno family. “I have the utmost respect for Mr. Bruno, and after having met him, my respect for him is even greater than it was before, but we need to wait,” Burson said. “Our obligation is to the citizens of Fort Myers, and we need to get fair market value for what we own, not just parcel it off.”