Future of Lee Civic Center, fairgrounds could include hotel, retail space

Time is running out for the Lee County fair, as the North Fort Myers property it sits on is up for new management or even redevelopment.

The county is exploring its options on what to do with the Lee Civic Center and the surrounding property, but that doesn’t mean dramatic change is on the way anytime soon.

The Southwest Florida Lee County Fair is celebrating its 97th year and its 41st at the property at SR-31 and Bayshore Road.

The fair’s operation chair fears once the contract expires in October, the Civic Center could turn into a hotel or resort.

“We want to stay here and we want to be here for the community. I think the community needs us here,” said Randy Crone, Southwest Florida Lee County Fair Association.

Lee County is open to the possibility of another organization taking over operations of the Civic Center grounds. The catch? Any plan must include civic functions, the fair and 4-H.

Commissioner Brian Hamman said he’d also like to see the Civic Center itself get a facelift.

“We all have fond childhood memories of the Civic Center but it’s not in that good of a shape anymore,” he said.

One bidder will be Kitson and Partners, the developers of Babcock Ranch. A proposal shared with WINK News by the Fair Association shows Kitson and Partners want to connect it to the property they own across the street and turn the fairgrounds into a hotel, restaurant and retail space.

“This hurts the community. It is not about the Southwest Florida Lee County Fair Association. It’s about them and about what they lose as a community,” Crone said.

The county said this is just the start of the process. There’s no vote anytime soon and no one is out of the running.

“Just because something is being proposed does not mean it is going to become a reality,” Hamman said.

No one from Kitson and Partners was available for an interview but in a statement, said Babcock Ranch and Lee County share an interest in adding value to this area. If commissioners go in another direction, they still have their support.

Reporter:Andryanna Sheppard
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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