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City of Palms Park in midtown Fort Myers

A Counselors of Real Estate team plans to create an action plan for a new look in the Midtown area of Fort Myers. The team leader toured it Monday and Tuesday, setting the stage for a lengthier visit in December with a full team of real estate and community-building experts.  

The CRE will partner with the Collaboratory, formerly known as the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to create an action plan for new uses for the vacant and former home of the Fort Myers News-Press newspaper at 2442 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and City of Palms Park, the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox. They will also look at other aspects of Midtown and Fort Myers. Both properties are owned by the city of Fort Myers.

The Collaboratory is funding the C.R.E. team’s expenses.

Cassandra Francis, who is based in Chicago for Strategic Advisory Services in urban planning, real estate, and construction, is leading the five-member team from CRE, which like the Collaboratory is a nonprofit organization.  

The CRE has 1,000 members from 21 countries. They take on projects after receiving applications and vetting them. Some of their projects have been high-profile, such as resolving a dispute between the developer of the World Trade Center and its insurers after Sept. 11, 2001; creating a 10-year, multi-billion-dollar master plan for the Philadelphia Public Schools; and revitalizing the public railway system in Poland.  

Cassandra Francis, Counselors of Real Estate

“We’re really excited about coming down,” Francis said. “We really are just getting started. One of the important things on this trip is to get the lay of the land and to speak to as many of the stakeholders as we can. Most of the information gathering will take place when our entire team comes down in December.” 

Other team members include Brett Pelletier, COO of Kirk & Company real estate counsel in Boston; Courtney Pogue, director of economic and community development in Nashville, Tennessee; Stephen Romine, business attorney in Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Elaine Worzala, professor of real estate at Clemson University.  

“We have folks who are involved in urban redevelopment, mixed-use, affordable housing, parks and recreation, main street development,” Francis said. “Lots of great, broad backgrounds.”  

“This is just an initial trip. Our goal is to engage with all of the stakeholders that we can. We want to consider all of the different drivers to make sure this is a success.”  

Francis is shifting her focus to Fort Myers after spending the past few months working with native American tribes in Oregon City, Oregon, on a redevelopment project.

Samantha DeKoven, CRE’s director of public service initiatives, also made the trip to Fort Myers.  

“Members volunteer their time to form their team,” DeKoven said. “We put together between four and six members. They go on site to address a real estate challenge on behalf of a government or nonprofit organization. It’s an entity that needs the real estate advisory services and likely doesn’t have the funds to engage the level of expertise that these folks would provide.” 

“The project has to be worthy of assembling a team of high-level, real estate experts. For them to give up their time. They’re not only going on site for a week, but they’re doing a lot of homework in advance. They’re meeting with each other and talking to a lot of experts. Part of the commitment of this process, is the group is completely objective, unbiased, outsiders, with no conflict of interest. No stake in what might come out. This group is providing their expertise.”

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