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empty lot in downtown Fort Myers

To the east sits The Franklin Shops, a two-story, mixed-use shop downtown, offering a variety of fashion, furnishings, beauty and eats with art and events. To the west sits Man on First, a men’s boutique, offering men’s fashion, accessories and gadgets. In the middle, a 2,865-square-foot, fenced-in lot has sat vacantly since 2019.  

The lot at 2208 First St. in downtown Fort Myers is in the preliminary stages of turning into a pocket park, a small park accessible to the general public featuring a doggie watering station, a substantial number of large plants and trees, lighting, a sunshade structure and concrete furniture.  

“Right now, it’s just an eyesore,” said Michele Hylton-Terry, executive director of the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency.  “We’re working to create a pocket park that can serve as green space downtown as well as provide seating. It’s an opportunity for the city to enjoy something that you might not see in the heart of a downtown.” 

The plot of land was once home to a historic wood-frame building, originally built in 1900, and later demolished in 2019. The building housed many restaurants throughout its years, lastly being the popular Ida’s Bon Appiteatery.  

Hylton-Terry and Fort Myers City Council member Liston Bochette met with the property owner, Eli Mani, and his representative and subsequently established terms, with an attorney preparing a draft lease for the lot. “This is a great opportunity not just to create a public space, but even for economic development,” Hylton-Terry said. 

She said she recently saw a pocket park in another city, where cart kiosks were stationed in the center of the space, allowing the creation of a pop-up shop opportunity for businesses. “There’s just so many ideas and there’s so many ways to make this a plus for the community,” she said. 

City leaders also were in favor of the idea, pointing to the condition of the lot over the years. 

“That building was torn down several years ago now and all we’ve done is put up a chain link fence with some screening on it,” council member Fred Burson said. “It’s had nothing done to it and we have the opportunity to beautify that.” 

The former building was demolished due to mold infestation and water and termite damage about three years ago. Despite the damage the building endured, it still held historical significance in the city.  

“It was a shame they demolished that building there,” said Stephany Stephenson, who lives on First Street and sees the vacant lot nearly every day. “A pocket park would be just what we need.” She isn’t the only local who anticipates seeing something other than an empty lot on their daily commute.  

Cory Graves drives right by the vacant lot every day, living within four miles of the site. “A pocket park would be nice with all the surrounding restaurants for families and us locals for a relaxing break,” he said. 

Although still a draft in the preliminary stage, the lease is expected to be nominal, lasting 15 years with the option to extend it five more years, at a rate of $10 per year. 

The city’s engineering department expects the project to have a baseline cost of $160,000, a cost that will be covered by Fort Myers resident Debra Gillen, who also paid to replace the planters along First Street.  

“This does a lot for the community, not just for those who live in town, but those who frequent downtown as well,” council member Darla Bonk said. “The details of this can be worked out later but conceptually, yes, this is the right way to go.”

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