To the east is The Franklin Shops, a two-story, mixed-use downtown store, offering a variety of fashion, furniture, beauty and dining along with art and events. To the west is Man on First, a men’s boutique selling men’s fashion, accessories and gadgets. In the middle, a 2,865 square foot fenced lot has been vacant since 2019.
The lot at 2208 First St. in downtown Fort Myers is set to become a pocket park, a small park accessible to the general public featuring a dog watering hole, a significant number of large plants and trees, lighting, a parasol, concrete structure and furniture.
“Right now it’s just a horror,” said Michele Hylton-Terry, executive director of the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency. “We are working to create a pocket park that can serve as downtown green space as well as seating. This is an opportunity for the city to take advantage of something that might not be seen in the heart of a city center.
The grounds once housed a historic wood-frame building, originally built in 1900 and then demolished in 2019. The building has housed many restaurants throughout its years, the latest being the popular Ida’s Bon Appiteatery.
Hylton-Terry and Fort Myers City Council Member Liston Bochette met with the landlord, Eli Mani, and his representative and then worked out the terms, with an attorney preparing a draft lease for the lot. “This is a great opportunity not only for creating public space, but also for economic development,” Hylton-Terry said.
She said she recently saw a pocket park in another city, where cart kiosks were parked in the center of the space, allowing for the creation of a pop-up shop opportunity for businesses. “There are so many ideas and there are so many ways to make it more for the community,” she said.
City leaders were also supportive of the idea, noting the state of the land over the years.
“This building was demolished several years ago now and all we did was put up a chain link fence with a screen over it,” council member Fred Burson said. “There has been nothing to do and we have the opportunity to embellish that.”
The old building was demolished due to mold infestation and water and termite damage about three years ago. Despite the damage to the building, it has retained historical significance in the city.
“It was a shame they tore that building down there,” said Stephany Stephenson, who lives on First Street and sees the vacant lot almost daily. “A pocket park would be exactly what we need.” She’s not the only local who expects to see more than a wasteland on her daily commute.
Cory Graves drives just next to the vacant lot every day, living less than four miles from the site. “A pocket park would be nice with all the surrounding restaurants for families and us locals for a relaxing break,” he said.
Although still in preliminary draft form, the lease is expected to be nominal, for a term of 15 years with the possibility of extending it for another five years, at a rate of $10 per year.
The city’s engineering department expects the project to have a base cost of $160,000, a cost that will be covered by Fort Myers resident Debra Gillen, who also paid to replace planters on along First Street.
“It does a lot for the community, not just for those who live in the city, but also for those who frequent downtown,” said council member Darla Bonk. “The details of that can be worked out later, but conceptually, yes, it’s the right way to go.”