The future of a key Bonita Springs property is a hot topic among local business owners who want a say in the future of Old 41 Road, but each has a different vision for an ideal downtown.
Imperial Crossing, or Bamboo Village, has been owned by the city for 18 years. After years of discussions and a failed project in 2008, Bonita Springs City Council is ready to pick a developer to make the 5-acre property a catalyst for activity.
At a June 16 meeting, councilors created a list of 17 features they would like to see on the property. The high-level ideas included public access along the river, commercial space and improved parking. Residential units should be included, but only for people who will live in the buildings year-round, City Council stated.
Councilors want to review and possibly select a design during a July 21 meeting. Three developers at the June meeting were encouraged to revise and resubmit site applications. Other businesses can submit designs before the July meeting.
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Two takeaways came from a discussion among business owners: They want a say in what would be built on the land and nearly everyone has their own “perfect” development.
Trish Leonard, president of the Bonita Springs Downtown Business Alliance, during a June 22 meeting read the responses from a survey sent to more than 100 members. Some responders want a city-owned park. Others want parking, especially for the Bonita Springs Wonder Gardens. Still others want lots of commercial space and restaurants.
“I’m somewhat surprised by the diversity of opinion,” Bonita Springs resident Dwight Esmond said. “Resort, no hotel. Condos, no condos. There’s a lot of different opinions about what people want there.”
One string ran through all speeches: Reach out to city councilors.
“If you have any contact with anyone at the city and care (about the property), you need to make sure you speak to them before (July 21),” said Charlie Strader, former president of the Bonita Springs Historical Society.
The property’s legacy came up several times. Some owners wanted a development built soon.
“We need to develop it for us, now, and what our needs are now and quit worrying about the future so much, because whatever is there will change.” said John Paeno, owner of CGT Kayaks.
Others said this is a last chance for the city to pick the right developer.
“Once they sell that property to a private developer, it may well be something different 20 years from now, but the city will have little to say about it,” Strader said.
A City Council meeting scheduled for July 7 will focus on the 2021-22 budget. The council is expected to reevaluate the Imperial Crossing lot on July 21.
Thaddeus Mast is a south Lee County reporter for the Naples Daily News and The Banner. Support his work by subscribing to our local news organization. Find him on Twitter as @thaddeusmast.