Fort Myers’ “Uncommon Friends Fountain,” the statuary representations of Industrial Revolution pioneers Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone in Fort Myers’ Centennial Park will remain in place, but much of what surrounds them is changing.
It is part of a re-making of the east side of Centennial Park, where major reconstruction is planned as a new riverfront amphitheater is built.
Construction of the amphitheater at city expense was part of the deal that brought the Luminary Hotel to downtown Fort Myers. It will replace a city boat ramp on the waterfront.
In case you missed it: Fort Myers preps for Centennial Park renovations
It addition to the new amphitheater there will be dramatic changes to Centennial Park, including new landscaping and changes in the elevation in parts of the park to conform with modern storm water flow standards.
Four monuments and pieces of public art will be moved.
Relocation is planned for three war monuments — the World War II propeller monument, a smaller World War II monument at the park flagpole and a Civil War Monument.
City planners also plan to relocate the Great Turtle Chase, a small piece of public art at the end of Monroe Street at the park entrance.
The fifth monument, the Uncommon Friends fountain will remain in place, but the landscaping around it is changing.
Ford, Edison and Firestone vacationed in Fort Myers for years during the winter months and referred to themselves as “The Vagabonds.” The presence of the three, in particular Edison and Ford, during the winter months helped develop Fort Myers as a winter destination.
Four of the large trees that surround the fountain will be taken down.
There was some protests when the plans were announced, but city engineer Nicole Monahan told the city council that while the trees have been on the site since the fountain was installed 32 years ago, they are invasive species that shed leaves constantly.
“The leaf litter that these trees cause becomes an everyday maintenance problem. Every day they are out there cleaning,” said Monahan, the city engineer. “Every year we are out there replacing the pumps within the fountain because they get damaged by the leaf litter.”
Beyond the mess the trees leave, they are considered a threat, with the potential to fall and damage the artwork if a major hurricane sweeps ashore.
Monahan noted that $40,000 had been spent over the past few years to fix issues caused by the trees, including damage to sidewalks caused by tree roots.
Two committees with responsibility for the art work, the Public Art Committee and the Beautification Advisory Board have endorsed removal of the trees.
Removal will also create an easier path to the amphitheater for equipment needed for performances.
New landscaping includes more than 130 trees will be moved onto the park landscape, while about two dozen trees that had to be removed are being transplanted elsewhere in the city.
The new trees include dozens of colorful flowering trees and eight varieties of palm trees.
“There are eight varieties of palm that are species that are not always found in the landscape on a large level,” Monahan said. “We are looking to create an additional palm education garden.”
The new palm tree park near the waterfront will include placards to educate the public on the species and their origin, much like existing exhibits across from the city boat basin and on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“The goal for this side of Centennial Park is a better and more colorful urban forest for future generations,” Monahan said.
Ninety-three trees were removed, many to allow the reshaping of the landscape to make way for new paths for storm water as required by codes adopted since the park was created.
When completed, fresh views will allow better viewing of companion pieces around the fountain.
They include life-size sculptures of a mother alligator and five babies and a manatee and its calf. The site also include casts of other wetland features, including otters, 16 fish, 12 frogs and four floating lily pads.
‘The amphitheater and the landscaping and access point changes needed to build on the riverfront site would cost $3.5 million. The city would pay most of the cost with a $700,000 from Mainsail Lodging and Development, the owner of the Luminary Hotel.
Some council members were critical of the city contract with Mainsail. Under the deal, Fort Myers gets 10 dates for its own events, but each date will be subject to pre-emption if the hotel schedules an event on the date.
The council failed to approve the additional $2.8 million for the city’s share of the next phase of the work when a 3-3 tie vote found Mayor Kevin Anderson and councilmembers Johnny Streets and Teresa Watkins Brown voting in favor, and members Liston Bouchette, Darla Bonk and Fred Burson voting against the funding
The tie would have been broken if Councilperson Terolyn Watson had voted, but while present in the chamber earlier in the meeting, and in city hall after the meeting was adjourned, Watson was not in the room for the vote on the amphitheater and park spe
The city ‘s agreement with the contractor is contingent on city council approval of appropriations to continue the work.