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A legacy piece of land in downtown Fort Myers measuring 5 inches wide by 38 inches long will get the spotlight at a city council meeting 4:30 p.m. Monday. 

The descendants and heirs of Joseph and Christiana Vivas, who were among the first settlers of Fort Myers, are negotiating with the city and a developer on the future of that strip of land measuring not much bigger than 3 feet long. The unmarked strip—it doesn’t even appear on Lee County’s online property database—is on the north side of Bay Street on the southeast corner of a parking lot that used to be part of Vivas Court. 

Rebekah Barney’s company, 2401 Bay Street LLC, bought the property at 2401 Bay St. in May 2021 for $575,000. Her company needs that strip to commence construction on a nine-story, 63-unit apartment complex, to be called The Irving. Her property was owned in the early 1900s and until 1957 by the Vivas family. 

Since the 1950s, ownership of what used to be the Vivas residence and is now a parking lot has shifted several times. It, along with what is now Park of Palms fronting Edwards Drive, went from the Vivas family to the city of Fort Myers. 

The portion slated to become The Irving eventually went back to the private sector. It was owned by the Swetnek family until 1977. It changed hands again in 1994 and was sold by the Amtel Group to Robert Barney as part of a $12.5 million deal in 2015 that included what is now Campo Felice, property records show. 

Rebekah Barney then bought it from her father last year.

Through all of those ownership changes, that tiny strip legally has belonged to the Vivas family. It was a measure taken to preserve their memory, said Jim Vivas Pridgen, who is the great-great-grandson of Joseph and Christiana Vivas. 

“As an heir, I want to make sure the city abides by what the family granted and gave to the city,” said Pridgen, who splits his time between Cape Coral and New Jersey. “The property was supposed to be for the people. Right now, we’re in the middle of an agreement plan to have them (the original Vivas family) recognized. We want to see something there.” 

The original Vivas family settled there after the Civil War. 

“He ran cattle,” Pridgen said of Vivas. “He was a cattleman. He was in his 20s. He built Billy’s Creek. He built two bridges. He built some homes around the city. We haven’t been able to find which ones, but they were downtown. He brought in a lot of the trees for the Royal Palm Hotel from Cuba.” 

Rebekah Barney is naming the apartments after her grandfather, Irving Cross. She said she appreciated the sentimentality of Pridgen and would work with him and the city to come to an 

agreement that would preserve the Vivas name and history and allow her to proceed with her development. 

“What I can tell you is we’re working closely with the Vivas family to recognize their legacy,” Rebekah Barney said. “It’s a partnership on improving the public park there and to honor their legacy. I am a historic preservationist myself. 

“I want to honor and recognize them,” she said. “I look forward to exploring the history more and have them work with our marketing team to be able to tell that story.” 

The agreement and the development could be great for Fort Myers, said City Council member Lin Bochette. 

“The Irving is a nice project,” Bochette said. “It could be high-end, energy-efficient, a real nice building. The park could benefit from it. We’re just trying to figure out assurances that all three parties involved will be happy with the outcome. It’s an interesting story. Because even a few square inches or square feet can make a big difference.” 

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