Congratulations to Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson and councilmembers Teresa Watkins Brown, Terolyn Watson and Johnny Streets for their commitment to and ratification of the long-awaited modernization of Centennial Park. Combined with the city’s existing partnership with Mainsail Development (operator of the Luminary Hotel and Caloosa Sound Convention Center), a world class public amphitheater on the east perimeter of the park will proceed to construction.
The hotel, parking garage and convention center were completed in September 2020. The Luminary accomplishes at-capacity bookings despite the pandemic, with travelers choosing to spend their dollars domestically at a top destination spot. Forbes Magazine just recognized Fort Myers as one of Florida’s most underrated cities for a weekend getaway, specifically citing the AAA Four Diamond venue and directing visitors to local restaurants and businesses.
Former city manager Saeed Kazemi, at the direction of city council, negotiated in good faith with the Luminary Hotel partners to allocate $350,000 towards the estimated $1 million cost of building the new amphitheater to enliven the Caloosahatchee waterfront. The amphitheater will be owned by the citizens of Fort Myers and managed by the Mainsail group.
Another separate and related project will upgrade Centennial Park play equipment, replacing nearly 30-year-old fixtures with multiple modern play structures accessible to children with unique abilities. Initiatives contained in the state legislative appropriations request of $1 million approved in 2020 include the aforementioned play equipment, refurbishment of ADA-compliant restrooms, creation of accessible pathways, drainage and new landscaping.
You may remember the grandstanding last Monday evening that went on about the park upgrades. Aren’t we ready to realize the full potential of our existing public spaces with modernization of facilities? Does anyone think it’s a good idea to provide accessible playground fixtures yet ignore the need for ADA-compliant restrooms, widened pathways and landscaping designed to reduce runoff into the river? Prudent public stewardship of taxpayer funds means doing what’s best for all citizens, evaluating a project as a whole rather than picking and choosing individual parts and leaving out other necessities in a highly politicized, piecemeal approach.
The city budgeted $2.75 million to fully complete the Centennial Park upgrades along with the $1 million in state funds, and $1 million for the amphitheater portion ($650,000 from Mainsail and $350,000 from the city), bringing the entire project to an estimated $4.75 million. The upgrades promote community access to green spaces, create outdoor venues and provide shared play spaces for all ages and abilities.
Our waterfront is the crown jewel and predominant focal point in our beautiful City of Palms. The future outdoor entertainment offerings will attract residents and visitors alike.
Just imagine if the entire $92 million hotel, parking garage, convention center and restaurant project had been delayed or the financing had fallen through, and the city attempted to get it off the ground today: the price of some building materials has skyrocketed 400% or more! It would have been scrapped immediately.
Normally, elected officials are excited to land outdoor entertainment attractions, especially to enhance an existing regional park right on the water.
It is disingenuous for other members of our local governing body to try and renege on an already-agreed-to, council approved plan for the surrounding public spaces in the name of petty politics.
Let’s move on with a more professional approach to public service. Our city deserves better than this.
Randall P. Henderson Jr. is the former Mayor, Fort Myers.