Two long-delayed construction projects, one of which involves city of Fort Myers funding, have hit another snag, with the two properties dropping from the developer’s ownership to that of his lender.
Towles Garden is a proposed 140-home subdivision geared toward workforce housing at the southwest corner of Edison Avenue and Veronica Shoemaker Boulevard in Fort Myers. Prima Luce is a planned two-tower, 220-unit, 22-story condominium complex fronting the Caloosahatchee River off First Street just east of downtown Fort Myers.
The lender, Fort Lauderdale-based Fuse Group Investment Companies, took control of both properties from developer Bob MacFarlane, public records show. The warranty deeds in lieu of foreclosure documents were recorded Feb. 6, although they were dated July 2023.
MacFarlane said he’s on his way to securing a $101 million construction loan from Fuse to proceed and should have the funding by the end of March. But he is running out of allies in city of Fort Myers government, which in January gave him another extension until Dec. 3 to get his financing in order.
That extension could be null and void soon, as council member Fred Burson said he would be bringing the issue back to Council’s agenda Feb. 19. In separate conversations, council member Johnny Streets and Mayor Kevin Anderson also expressed frustrations with the lack of progress.
The city awarded MacFarlane the Towles Garden property but had him place $560,000 in an escrow account should development not proceed, Anderson said. The city also paid about $500,000 to clear the land. The city cannot recover the clearing costs and the increased value of the land from 2021, Anderson said, but he expressed hope another developer could complete the project.
MacFarlane filed paperwork that made the Towles Garden property cross-collateral for the Prima Luce project, public records show.
MacFarlane also is facing a lawsuit from one of the subcontractors working for construction company Jaxi Builders, public records show, claiming it had not been paid.
MacFarlane said the lawsuit would be settled as soon as he procures the loan. Fuse could not be reached for comment.
MacFarlane, whose Prima Luce marketing brochure says he has presold 130 of the 222 units, said he should have done a better job communicating with the public and city government.
“We should have put out a letter a week ago, OK?” MacFarlane said. “I didn’t think people would look at this and say it was a foreclosure. It wasn’t a foreclosure. It’s in conjunction with Fuse to go forward with the current mortgage that we are working on right now.
“Towles Garden is attainable, affordable home ownership.”
The intent of the project pleased council members until the lack of progress angered them.
Streets called it an embarrassment.
“We just deliberated on this a couple weeks ago,” said Streets, who then insisted Council give MacFarlane an extension—that the project has gone too far to turn around. “I said I would take full responsibility, and I do. It hurts my constituents. It hurts people who are looking for housing. We gave him every opportunity to get it right. We gave him until the end of the year, both the [Community Redevelopment Agency] and the City Council.
“I’m disappointed. I can be profound without being profane. Do the project correctly. As a strong advocate for Towles Garden and Mr. MacFarlane and his group, it’s disappointment. But I feel it’s an opportunity for someone else to step forward.”
Anderson said the city was willing to make those initial investments because of the shortage of workforce housing.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed any time we see a construction delayed,” Anderson said. “It’s more so very disappointing that Towles Garden isn’t under way, because that had a component of workforce housing.”
Burson said it’s time for the city to move on from MacFarlane.
“I’m bringing it up on the next agenda to go ahead and move forward and try to secure our money from the lender,” Burson said. “I think it’s evidence enough that he is no longer in control of the property.”
MacFarlane pledged to complete both projects if given the chance.