“If you build it, he will come,” became one of the most famous lines in movie history.
The voice heard by actor Kevin Costner’s character in the movie, “Field of Dreams” advises him to build a baseball diamond on an Iowa cornfield, which, spoiler alert, later frees the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
The line often gets rephrased to: “If you build it, they will come.” And it gets applied to real estate and growth and development.
‘Development is the next inevitable step.’ Bonita sees development surge east of I-75
In the case of Corkscrew Road’s widening east of I-75 and Ben Hill Griffin Road, the opposite occurred.
“They came without the road,” Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said of the people flocking to the area.
“We have 10,000 people moving to Lee County every year,” commissioner Frank Mann said Thursday, which just so happened to be the 134th birthday of Lee County. Mann spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony of the project along with Pendergrass and commissioner Ray Sandelli.
“Last year, there was a pandemic, and it was closer to 18,000 people,” Mann said. “We need to add infrastructure every year. We’re doing it, and we’re doing it well, because we have the best staff right here in Lee County.”
The project will cost an estimated $52 million. It broke ground April 26 and is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2023. Cougar Construction is leading the efforts.
“It’s a flagship project for us,” said Joniel Diaz, project manager for Cougar.
The onslaught of newcomers to the Corkscrew corridor began in 2015, when Pendergrass and fellow current commissioner Brian Hamman voted to lift density restrictions on lands off Corkscrew Road east of Ben Hill Griffin Road that had been known as the Density Reduction/Groundwater Recharge area.
What used to allow one house per 10 acres now allows one house per acre, but the land developer also must preserve 55% of the surrounding lands. Mann voted against that effort, trying to keep the prior density restrictions in place. Sandelli and Kevin Ruane were not on the commission then.
There were 449 homes built in that area over a 25-year period, 1990-2015. Now, there are at least 6,000 new single-family homes planned over just the past two years off Corkscrew Road, east of Ben Hill Griffin Parkway.
The Preserve at Corkscrew, Corkscrew Shores, Wild Blue, Vista at Wild Blue, the Place at Corkscrew and Verdana Village are some of the subdivisions either built or being built in that corridor.
If you build them, they need wider roads. Traffic counts have surged, from 15,598 average annual daily traffic counts in 2014 to 20,900 in 2019 at Ben Hill Griffin Road.
From Ben Hill Griffin Parkway east to Fire House Lane, the road will be widened to six lanes. Then the lanes will transition to four lanes east to Bella Terra, with that portion built with further expansion to six lanes in mind for Phase One.
The road will have four-foot bike lanes in either direction.
Although all the housing developments have encroached upon wildlife habitat, the project also includes a wildlife crossing that will elevate the road by a gradual grade to eight feet in the eastern portion.
“Wildlife goes underneath, traffic goes over,” said David Murphy, the project manager for the Lee County department of transportation. “We’ll put fences on either side of it. It kind of funnels them to the other side.”
Phase Two construction will continue east with four lanes to Alico Road.
The total distance will be 4.4 miles.
“Good things take time,” Sandelli said. “This has taken some time.”
“We need it,” Pendergrass said, as traffic backs up between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and again in the evening. “This one is really vital to the Village of Estero.”
Alico Family Golf Center closes
On Sunday, the 7-year-old driving range and golf center had its last day. The land on which it sits is under contract and part of a development order that will become part of an Amazon distribution center.
A future column will look at the sale price and more details of the Amazon project as they become available.
Dan Sisson has managed the Robin Nigro Golf Shop within the golf center for the past two years. He learned about a month ago not to book any more lessons past May 16 and was saddened by the news.
“I get it,” Sisson said of the reasons why. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve seen this happen before many times. People build golf facilities as an investment.”
Hot SWFL housing market brings top prices, frustrated home seekers
Sisson noted previous driving ranges like the one at the northwest corner of Daniels Parkway and Six Mile Cypress Parkway were bought and sold and transformed, in that instance, into a shopping center.
“It’s kind of an understanding,” Sisson said. “You have to see the forest through the trees. Today, it’s a driving range, then someday, it will be something else.”
Mark Nigro, who named the golf shop after his wife, who won the 1993 U.S. Women’s Open, will relocate the golf shop to 10431 Radar Court, off Ben Hill Griffin Road, just south of Terminal Access Road and adjacent to Fox Rent-a-Car.
“Our short-term plan is to just open up a shop there,” Nigro said. “What used to be a park-and-ride for the airport, they went out of business when COVID hit and the airline industry crashed. We’re taking over that building, and we’re going to put our golf shop in there. The reason we chose that spot is that just across the street is a 10-acre field where we want to put in the driving range. If we can get the approval.”
The land is owned by Wen Wu, who also owns the women’s dress and fashion design company, House of Wu.
“When I heard this place was closing up, I started looking for some other locations,” Nigro said. “One of the Realtors involved with one of the properties told me about it. I went over there and talked to Mr. Wu. I told him, ‘I have a vision for your property here. I see this as being a tremendous entertainment area.’ He’s got streets already in there. He’s got utilities and everything. He agrees. He really does kind of see that. He was excited about the idea.”
Nigro previously ran golf operations in Kansas City before moving to Fort Myers.
“Doing it down here, maybe it can be even bigger and better,” Nigro said. “Our vision for this thing is a pretty cool deal. If we’re able to make it happen, it will be something pretty special for people who love golf in the Fort Myers area. We’ll miss being here. But Things happen. So you move on.”
On Thursday, area resident Jack Taylor swung by for a few more golf swings. He moved to the area from St. Louis two years ago and since then has found friends at the golf center.
“At least twice a week,” Taylor said of how often he would practice there. “Progress is progress. We move on. I’ll probably be playing a little more golf now.”
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).