Plans for the Fort Myers boating basin were released Thursday as potential developers explained how they would create new boat docks and possibly a major complex at the site of the city-owned monument opened 80 years ago.
Boaters are worried about the future and fear they won’t be able to maintain access to the Caloosahatchee River.
Some worry about how far the city would be willing to go in its quest for revenue from major waterfront redevelopments, using the yacht basin as a centerpiece to lure people to expensive resorts.
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Members of the boating community and their supporters rallied Monday in support of maintaining the yacht basin and wharf on the city’s waterfront near the Edison Bridge.
Fort Myers issued a request for proposals for the use of the space and reportedly attracted seven proposals.
City Manager Marty Lawing said an advisory committee made up of city staff and volunteers reviewed the nominations before they were presented to city council and forwarded five for council consideration.
“They’re all very high quality,” Lawing said. “I think you’ll find that a lot of time and a lot of good ideas have been invested here.”
Proposals include options for larger property developments overlooking the waterfront and for making the yacht basin itself a hub of activity.
A handful of boaters watched the proceedings on Thursday, reacting to the kind of developments being discussed.
Bruce Schiel, a Southwest Florida yachtsman, has been taking his 36-foot sailboat on the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf of Mexico for six years.
He watched the first presentations with an eye on their impact on people who have used the yacht basin for years, if not generations.
After seeing early pitches, Schiel said he preferred a plan that promised advanced access for average people — people heading to the Gulf to take a cruise or navigate an area from Boca Grande to Naples.
It’s an experience he fears he will lose if the reconstruction of the marina makes the marina part of a larger project.
“It tends to keep the whole area functioning as it is now,” Schiel said. “The other is a large development with a hotel and everything that would change the look of the area. It’s like building another Luminary hotel right next to it.”
The Yacht Basin was built as a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression.
Resident Bill Westberry, a construction engineer, said his big concern was that rebuilding the docks could stir up pollution that would have settled on the bottom of the river in a time when that was what was done with trash.
“Rebuild, fix it and don’t tear it down,” Westberry said. “The first time they put a dredge line down there to start cleaning up, you’ll see plumes of oil coming to the surface.”
Fort Myers native Art Hamel Jr. said he fears major decisions about the future of the yacht basin will be made by the city council.
“All they’re doing is looking at the revenue numbers that this project is going to provide for them without worrying about what they’re giving up in terms of value,” Hamel said.
His father, Arthur Hamel, who died in 2002, began his career in the family tackle store, was long involved in local real estate and served as mayor from 1980 to 1984.
“The mistake that was made with the Luminary is that we gave away a lot of our waterfront property, and we don’t have it anymore,” Hamel Jr. said. “Boaters have been good in Fort Myers for a very long time. The facilities we have and the access to Fort Myers is extremely unique for many different cities. We are very fortunate.”