Lead Photo: The Lutgert Cos. have officially sold out Residence at Mercato. Details below.
FLORIDA LEGISLATURE SET TO PASS BUDGET IN 2021 SESSION’S CLOSING WEEK
The Florida Legislature is expected to end its 2021 session on Friday if it can produce a state budget today. Still in budget negotiations, lawmakers are expected to meet the deadline for the $100 billion budget. Legislators, though, still plan to return to the state capitol in two weeks for a special session to consider a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.
Video courtesy of WINK News
LAWMAKERS CONSIDER APPROVING SPORTS BETTING AT SEMINOLE TRIBE’S CASINOS
A major gambling deal is in the works that would bring sports betting to Florida. Lawmakers are rushing to pass a deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe to allow sports betting inside the tribe’s casinos. It’s an agreement that would turn the Seminole casinos into spots like those in Las Vegas with craps, roulette and other games. The issue may hinge on the referendum Florida voters passed in 2018, which says any expansion of casino gambling must be approved by voters, WINK News reports.
LEECARES EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE STILL AVAILABLE
The federal government passed two relief packages to help people who have been hard hit by the pandemic pay rent and utilities. Money for the second program is set to be rolled out in May. The LeeCARES program in Lee County has its portal open now, where applicants can see if they are eligible. According to the LeeCARES website, Lee County will pay up to six months of past due rent and utilities and three months of prospective payments for qualified households, plus ongoing payment of future rent, as permitted. However, rental assistance cannot exceed a total of 12 months for each qualified household.
Video courtesy of WINK News
SOUTHWEST FLORIDA BOASTS BOOMING JOB MARKET FOR COLLEGE GRADUATES
Across the country, nearly half of recent college graduates are stuck looking for work, and when they do find jobs, 69% expect lower salaries. But here in Southwest Florida, we are experiencing just the opposite of that trend: Here, there are too many jobs, and not enough people to fill them. CareerSource of Southwest Florida says the graduates here have been doing well, and the company has been touching base with all universities in the area to make sure students are placed in positions. It says the pandemic may have impacted graduates more in other states with stricter lockdowns, and that’s why national numbers are showing recent graduates struggling to find employment, WINK News reports.
FORT MYERS NAMED EIGHTH BEST SMALL CITY FOR STARTING A BUSINESS
Entrepreneurs can grow and thrive in smaller cities like Fort Myers, WalletHub’s pick for the eighth-best small city for starting a business. WalletHub compared the business-friendliness of more than 1,300 small cities using a data set of 20 key metrics that looked at average growth in number of small businesses, investor access and labor costs. “We’ve been purposeful in creating a ‘City of Possibilities’ mindset for those wanting to start a business in the City of Fort Myers,” said Saeed Kazemi, city manager. “Reducing building permit fees, creating access to open land and viable commercial corridors, and investing in a regional tech hub has been conducive to our success.” Under Kazemi’s leadership, the city entered into a public-private partnership to establish the Collaboratory, a regional tech hub where ideas for social, economic and sustainable change are launched. The space also serves as a business incubator and flexible workspace, empowering local entrepreneurs with the foundational elements to start a business. The City of Fort Myers was the only Florida city to break into the top 10.
Video courtesy of WINK News
LOW INVENTORY MAKES IT TOUGH TO BUY HOMES IN COLLIER COUNTY
The housing market is still booming and breaking real estate records in Southwest Florida, making it tough to buy because the few homes on the market are creating bidding wars among cash buyers. Realtors say their inventory is low because everything is selling fast, tripling prices in some cases. The Naples Area Board of Realtors said the median price of homes in the area for March was $400,000, and it’s going up. Sales last month broke records again and more waves of buyers are coming. Realtors say if you’re looking to buy, remember to come pre-approved, and have some backup choices because chances are, if you love the home, someone else will too, WINK News reports.
RESIDENCES AT MERCATO COMPLETELY SOLD OUT
The Lutgert Companies’ product at Residences at Mercato is completely sold out. The project was marketed exclusively by Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Situated on a unique 11-acre site, the gated community offered 45 coastal contemporary residences accentuated by private open-air living spaces. Developed by The Lutgert Companies and built by Lutgert Construction, the community has earned numerous accolades for its new construction offerings.
WATER-QUALITY ISSUES TOPIC OF VIRTUAL CHAMBER MEETING
Chauncey Goss, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) board chairman, and James Evans, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) environmental policy director, will lead a water-quality discussion at the next business meeting of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce. The virtual meeting starts at noon on May 12. On advice from its Government Affairs Committee, the chamber board of directors adopted five priorities for this year’s Florida legislative session, all addressing local water quality issues. The Sanibel-Captiva chamber will send its members Zoom invitations to register for the virtual event. When members RSVP, they will receive a link to the Zoom meeting in advance. The chamber currently seeks a sponsor for the meeting. For more information about sponsoring or registering, contact Landen Drake at 239-472-8255 or Landen@sanibel-captiva.org.
GRANDPA’S PIZZA IN BONITA BENEFITS FROM BARSTOOL SPORTS’ ONE BITE REVIEW
Grandpa’s Pizza in Bonita Springs ran out of its products during the last few days after Dave “El Presidente” Portnoy of Barstool Sports visited the tiny pizzeria last week for his popular One Bite pizza review and posted a “Hidden Gem Alert” tease about it mid-week on social media. Joseph “Pepi” Minetti, who has co-owned the local pizzeria with his wife, Antonietta, for decades, has been slammed since the review, which awarded the hand-tossed cheese pizza at Grandpa’s Pizza a rating of 7.8 out of 10 and its Grandma’s Pizza specialty pie an 8.1. Those are high scores for Portnoy, who raved about Grandpa’s Pizza, which has operated from a tiny takeout space off Old 41 Road for 41 years. Grandpa’s Pizza, 27030 Old 41 Road, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and closed Sunday. Call 239-992-7119 or click here.
BURNS APPOINTED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CYPRESS AT HOME
Christine Burns has been appointed executive director of Cypress at Home. Burns will be responsible for the overall leadership of the organization’s home health, home care, care management, and medical care operations. Prior to accepting her new position, Burns worked in the healthcare arena for 20 years. She has served in various leadership positions within Lee Health, most recently as the director of post-acute intake and business development, and also served on various home health committees and workgroups. Burns holds a Bachelor of Science degree in healthcare administration and is currently completing her master’s degree in healthcare administration from Bellevue University. The Cape Coral resident also serves as an officer of the District XVI Florida Healthcare Association and as a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
SUFFOLK HIRES MANAGING DIRECTOR OF SUFFOLK TECHNOLOGIES
Suffolk has hired Wan Li Zhu as the managing director of Suffolk Technologies, the firm’s venture capital arm that invests in technology startups. Zhu will be responsible for Suffolk’s investment and partnership activities that accelerate industry-wide adoption of breakthrough innovations. Zhu is a founding advisor of Suffolk Technologies and worked closely with the executive team since 2019 to establish the venture capital arm. That partnership has already led to investments in several organizations, including OpenSpace, EquipmentShare and Agora. Before his work at Suffolk Technologies, Zhu was a partner at Fairhaven Capital, a Boston-based venture capital firm that has invested more than $450 million in enterprise and consumer startups. His investment focus centered on applied artificial intelligence, marketplace platforms, and data-driven businesses across multiple industry sectors. Zhu also co-founded and manages MIT Alumni Angels, which has supported more than 100 technology and life sciences startups founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni, faculty and students.
ZEKRI TO SERVE ON FLORIDA BAR COMMITTEE
Iman Zekri, marital and family law attorney at Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt P.A., will begin serving on The Florida Bar’s Student Education & Admissions to the Bar Committee. The committee is tasked with determining whether Florida law schools are adequately preparing their students for the practice of law. The committee also monitors and reviews proposed legislation affecting legal education and tracks the success of minority scholarship programs to help law schools disburse scholarships in a way that maximizes the benefits of minority scholarship programs. Zekri received the 2020 Florida Bar Journal Excellence in Writing Award for her article, “Respectfully Dissenting: How Dissenting Opinions Shape the Law and Impact Collegiality Among Judges,” originally appearing in the September/October 2020 edition of The Florida Bar Journal. She graduated from Riverdale High School’s International Baccalaureate program. She also graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida Gulf Coast University and cum laude with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
SANIBEL CAPTIVA COMMUNITY BANK HIRES RIZZO
Laura Rizzo has joined Sanibel Captiva Community Bank as a customer service representative and teller at its McGregor branch in Fort Myers. She is responsible for assisting customers with personal and business banking transactions. Rizzo has 25 years of executive administration experience working for several Southwest Florida businesses, including Sanibel Community Church, and has also served as a substitute teacher for the Lee County School District since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Trent University, as well as a degree in education from the University of Western Ontario. She also has a qualifying master’s degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Community Cooperative food drive collects more than four tons of PB&J supplies
Community Cooperative’s pantries are now filled with more than four tons of peanut butter and jelly supplies thanks to community support of the nonprofit’s 2021 Peanut Butter & Jelly Food Drive. A total of 8,131.5 pounds of PB&J donations were dropped off at Community Cooperative’s weigh-in on April 21, which equates to 128,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the community. Supplies are already being distributed through Community Cooperative’s mobile food pantry. Top collection teams by community sector included real estate photographers Real Tours with 2,745.5 pounds collected, the Pelican Preserve community in Fort Myers with 961 pounds, and the Island Coast High School with 436 pounds. This year’s Peanut Butter & Jelly Food Drive also honors Community Cooperative’s late founder Sam Galloway Jr., who began the Soup Kitchen 37 years ago by handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after church in downtown Fort Myers to people who needed food.
Patty and Jay Baker make second $10 million match pledge for Gulfshore Playhouse Cultural Campus
Gulfshore Playhouse recently celebrated the completion of the design process and upcoming groundbreaking in September for the new Gulfshore Playhouse Cultural Campus featuring the Baker Theatre and Education Center. Patty and Jay Baker made a surprise announcement at the celebration, pledging to match all gifts made by July 4, up to $10 million. The Bakers, who kicked off the Next Stage Capital Campaign with the first match gift, now have pledged up to $20 million for the new Cultural Campus. Drs. Patricia and George Kraus have stepped up as the first match donors, pledging $1 million. The Next Stage Celebration featured Broadway’s Jason Danieley and Emmy- and Grammy-award winner John McDaniel, Naples philanthropists, business executives and civic leaders. Nearly 300 supporters attended the event to support the new Gulfshore Playhouse Cultural Campus. In addition to the Bakers, special guest speakers included Steve Akin, Gulfshore Playhouse board chairman and co-chair of the Next Stage Capital Campaign; Michael Wynn, CEO of Sunshine Ace Hardware; and Kristen Coury, CEO and producing artistic director for Gulfshore Playhouse.
Costco supporting Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida in May
Starting May 1 and lasting all month long, Costco will support Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. Costco invites every shopper to make a simple donation at the register. All funds raised stay local to benefit Golisano, which became a Children’s Miracle Network partner hospital last year. Since 1988, Costco employees and members have donated more than $43 million for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals as part of their May is for Miracles Campaign. Every dollar collected helps provide life-saving care to sick and injured children in the five-county area of Southwest Florida. The campaign helps to ensure Golisano can deliver life-saving patient care to all, especially the tiniest patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Thanks to the community’s generosity last year, the three area Costcos in Fort Myers, Estero and Naples raised more than $139,000. Costco matches a portion of every donation.
Don’t be the last to know what’s happening in Southwest Florida. Sign up for our free daily newsletter, Gulfshore Business Daily, to stay connected.