The Richards Building, built in 1923 by an out-of-town developer and pharmacist, played a pivotal role in shaping the city of Fort Myers over the rest of the 20th century.
The building, at 1617 Hendry St. in downtown Fort Myers, has changed hands again. It now belongs to a modern-day, out-of-town developer looking to further shape the city and other parts of Southwest Florida over the rest of the 21st century.
Lombard, Illinois-based development company Alessio Holdings, along with other investors, purchased the four-story Richards Building on March 31 from Trolow Real Estate of Fort Myers for $2 million.
Mickey Alessio, a managing partner with the family-owned company, is establishing his company in Fort Myers, said Sawyer Smith, a Fort Myers attorney who is assisting with Alessio’s move to the region and handling his communications.
Alessio Holdings also paid $10 million on April 11 for 159 acres at the corner of State Road 82 and Interstate 75. The land was owned by Buc-ee’s, a Texas-based gas station and convenience store chain that decided against developing the site due to traffic concerns. Alessio immediately sold 23 of the acres for $7 million to Kittle Property Group, an apartment developer.
“The Alessio family sees this area as a place that they can continue with their backgrounds and skillsets,” Smith said. “They are not land flippers. They’re builders. Like a lot of people from the Midwest, they’ve found their way to Southwest Florida. They’re good people. Honest. Hard-working. It’s a good thing they’re here.”
Alessio plans to develop the acreage fronting State Road 82 while preserving the wetlands to the south of it.
“That will contain a job center,” Smith said. The details remain confidential for now. “It’s going to have jobs. They’re going to bring jobs to the area. Economic development is crucial to this city. That’s what this is all about.”
As for the Richards Building, the space on the ground floor has an antique shop and Peter’s German Ice Cream & Coffee Shop, which will continue operating as usual, the tenants said. In the 1920s, those spaces used to be a pharmacy built by R.Q. Richards.
Richards, decades ago the president of the state’s pharmacy board, convinced Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack to relocate his professional baseball team to Fort Myers for spring training at Terry Park in 1924.
“R.Q. Richards is the one who established the pharmacy,” Connie Mack III, the retired U.S. senator and a Fort Myers High School graduate, told Gulfshore Business. “He’s the one who got my grandfather to come. [Richards’ grandson] and I went to high school together at Fort Myers High School. He was Dick Richards III, and of course, I was Connie Mack III.
“R.Q. Richards is the one who established the Royal Palm Pharmacy. He operated it for many years. And his son operated it after he passed away. They all worked out of it. We used to go there all the time as kids after playing baseball over at the park. We’d have a chocolate milkshake and a grilled cheese sandwich. There was a counter you could sit at. This would have been in the 1950s.”
Now, items from that past are for sale in part of that space in the antique shop, and chocolate milkshakes are on the menu at Peter’s ice cream shop. Each floor of the building has about 5,200 square feet of space.
“He wants to be in the heart of the central business district downtown,” Smith said on behalf of Alessio. “It’s going to be a very cool space.”
Bryan Myers, a broker with SVN Commercial Partners in Fort Myers, helped connect Alessio Holdings with the previous owners to make the Richards Building deal happen.
“There were no commissions paid out on that deal,” Myers said. “I did put the deal together, but I’m a part owner. I can’t say I brokered the deal, because I didn’t get paid.”
Myers moved to Fort Myers in 2006 but grew up with Mickey Alessio in Joliet, Illinois. They remained friends, and Myers joked that he twisted Alessio’s arm hard enough to finally get him interested in Fort Myers.
“Our plans are to renovate the entire fourth floor for our corporate headquarters for SVN Commercial Partners on the west coast, along with the Alessio Companies offices,” Myers said. “We’ll be sharing that space, and we’ll be keeping professional offices on the second and third floor.”