Centennial Park construction delayed as Fort Myers city council disagrees on cost

Published: April 20, 2021 6:15 PM EDT
Updated: April 20, 2021 6:40 PM EDT

A park that forced the homeless community out in order to get renovated is now facing another obstacle.

This time the work at Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers has slowed due to the cost of building a new amphitheater.

Three city council members during a Monday night Fort Myers City Council meeting voted against approving the cost to the city of building an amphitheater on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River on the east side of Centennial Park.

The motion failed 3-3. Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson and city council members Johnny Street and Teresa Watkins Brown voted in support of it.

Opposing it were council members Fred Burson, Liston Bochette and Darla Bonk.

The city council members who voted against it said they didn’t realize the city would be getting the short end of the stick.

The city shares the cost to build the amphitheater with the company that runs The Luminary Hotel. But, the company would control and profit off the amphitheater while the city has to pay to maintain it.

While the council debates whether to cut a better deal, the construction has to pause.

The city forced the homeless population to leave the park in October. But now it’s almost May.

Where is the construction?

“It’s a slow process, it’s not going as quickly as I would’ve hoped, but that happens sometimes,” Anderson said.

Anderson said work is being done.

There’s a new irrigation system, new drainage system and new trees.

Anderson said there have been two holdups.

First, a debate over how to spend a state grant for the playground equipment. And now, over how to proceed with a deal the city struck to build a new amphitheater.

“I will be looking into it to know it’s a balanced deal,” Anderson said.

But, Burson said the deal is not balanced.

As it’s written, the city would only control and profit off the amphitheater 10 days a year.

“We’re giving it away for 355 days a year, yet we maintain it for 365, at some point it’s gotta be more fair to the residents footing the bill,” Burson said.

The price of construction could go up as the city waits. Is that fair to residents?

Burson said yes because the cost is minimal compared to the number of lost dollars if the deal goes through as-is.

“We’ll be ahead at the end of the day,” Burson said.

Anderson said the amphitheater will draw dollars downtown by attracting them to businesses.

City Council will revisit the issue in a few weeks, Anderson said.

“The people who we spoke to who started living under the shelter, they were told by law enforcement if you don’t have anywhere to live, go live in the woods of North Fort Myers,” said Kat Duesterhaus, a homeless advocate with Housing First Lee County.

But while Anderson and Burson are on opposing votes for the construction of the amphitheater, they both agree it was the right decision to remove the homeless people from Centennial Park.

Both city leaders told WINK News the park was never meant to be a homeless shelter.