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Fort Myers is almost ready to unveil its new, downtown waterfront, but developers have yet to sign any contracts to build.

A ribbon-cutting is tentatively scheduled for the first weekend in December, said Don Paight, executive director of the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency.

“For all practical purposes,” he said, “it’s pretty much finished.”

The project brings the Caloosahatchee riverfront up to Bay Street. It creates two basins that filter pollutants from storm runoff. The basins will be separated by Edwards Drive, which will be converted into a brick-paved bridge.

When the $5.3 million riverfront project broke ground in March, Paight said he expected it finished by September. The contract stipulates Wright Construction Group Inc. has until roughly Nov. 20 to finish.

As the city finishes last-minute touches such as landscaping and lighting, the next step is to find businesses to occupy the new waterfront. The city hopes to put three or four restaurants along the water and 20-25 retail stores next door along Hendry Street and Edwards Drive. The main attraction is supposed to be a 200-room hotel connected to the Harborside Event Center.

Acquest Realty Group is negotiating for the city with hotel developer JWM Management, Inc., a Sarasota-based company that has completed projects including Hyatts and Marriotts. JWM Management would lease the land, which is the Harborside parking lot, from the city. The project will include a parking garage with 200 to 250 spaces, but it has not been determined whether the city or the developer will pay for it.

“Our goal is by the end of this year to try to get an agreement with the hotel developer,” Paight said.

After that, it would probably take 12-15 months to finish construction, Paight said. He hopes restaurants will open around the same time as the hotel.

Eight restaurants have expressed interest in leasing a space along the water. Representatives of Columbia Restaurant, a Spanish restaurant chain founded in 1905 in Tampa, visited the site when the project broke ground in March. The city will follow up once the riverfront is done, Paight said. The city wants to get the hotel under contract before it aggressively pursues restaurants and retail stores.

Securing retail storefronts will be left up to the family of former Fort Myers Mayor Wilbur Smith, which owns the block at Hendry Street and Edwards Drive where the city hopes to eventually see shops, Paight said.

Mayor Randy Henderson said he couldn’t be more excited for the ribbon-cutting.

“It’s going to make a statement,” he said.

Kevin Offerman, owner of City Tavern across the street from the project, said he expects the new waterfront will bring people downtown.

“They’re doing a good job of creating a better atmosphere downtown,” he said. “Tying in an asset such as the river into downtown is definitely a good idea.”


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