How much is too much to pay for the new FMPD headquarters?

Would you pay twice as much for anything as you did just three years ago?

As Fort Myers begins work on a new police station planned before the pandemic, we wanted to know if it will cost much more than originally planned and how much of your tax money elected leaders are willing to spend.

The plan is to turn the old News-Press site at the corner of Fowler Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into the new police station. The city paid $9.2 million in 2019 for the property. There’s no final design yet, but the planning is in progress.

The price tag – from three years ago – was $36 million. Now?

“I can tell you that we’ve seen costs increase in construction since that time, so I would expect that number is probably a little bit low at this point,” was the warning given to the Fort Myers City Council earlier this year.

How low? New police stations are expensive. As an example, Hollywood, on Florida’s east coast, is building one to the tune of $72 million. Tallahassee is renovating an old mall at an anticipated cost of $76 million, and in St. Petersburg, theirs will cost $78 million.

From our investigation, the cost of the new FMPD station is unlikely to double from its original $36 million, or even anything close.

The big savings here are supposed to come from rehabbing an existing building instead of tearing it down. So, what’s the tolerance for cost overruns? WINK News went to Fort Myers council members and the mayor to ask them that very question.

Mayor Kevin Anderson and councilmen Fred Burson and Liston Bochette said there won’t be much, if any, tolerance to go above $36 million.

Councilwoman Teresa Watkins Brown said she’s open to completing the new renovation “in phases” or seeing if a “new build is cheaper.”

Councilman Johnny Streets said it’s time to bring the whole project back before the council and “consider all options.”

Joe Cimilluca with Stephens Construction said costs are up 20% in the last year.

“I was not expecting this after COVID,” he said.

Stephens Construction plans to bid on the project but knows costs today will be very different than they were three years ago. Cimilluca said the $36 million figure could be in the ballpark of the actual cost or it could possibly be “totally wrong.”

It’s possible the city could scale back the construction even though everyone we talked to on the council said they know how badly the city needs a new police station.

We also asked to talk to the city manager, the architect for the new station, and Councilwoman Terolyn Watson, but we didn’t hear back from any of them.

Councilwoman Darla Bonk said she had no comment.

Burson said this is also why he wants to look into having the Lee County Sheriff’s Office take over police duties in Fort Myers. He thinks it would save millions of dollars.

WINK News will follow the process closely.

Reporter:Chris Cifatte
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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