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Bonita mayor thinking small for downtown redevelopment big picture
By BRAD KANE (Contact)
7:13 p.m., Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bonita Springs lost the battle for the big fish, and now the city hopes the little ones have not gotten away.

In Bonita government’s efforts to revitalize the downtown corridor, the city was relying on big time developers like Antaramian Development Group of Naples to bring the plans to fruition. With Antaramian’s Imperial Landing and a few other large developments falling victim to the slow housing economy, Bonita hopes small businesses are the answer to a new and improved Old 41 Road.

“When one angle doesn’t work out, you have to go on a tangent. You have to be flexible,” Mayor Ben Nelson said. “This is a program that could really kick start things downtown.”

On Wednesday, Nelson will unveil his plans to the City Council to bring small businesses to Bonita downtown by offering various incentives for them to start up in that area.

“We’ve got to get creative to grow and expand our economic base,” said Nancy Keefer, president of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. “The concept of incentives for a redevelopment area can be a real positive.”

Nelson’s plan allows for certain businesses like restaurants and retail shops to be exempt from certain requirements like creating parking, being setback from the road and have a loading zone.

“He means it on the context of a more liberal application of the rules ... where enterprise can be more free to operate without having to go through all the red tape,” City Manager Gary Price said.

The proposal could include other provisions like reduced permit fees, fast-tracked permitting and discounts on impact fees if a business agreed to use an existing building.

“That would keep some of the ambience of the area by keeping the existing buildings,” Nelson said.

This latest effort to revitalize the downtown corridor began in 2002 with the main component being the redevelopment of 5.3 acres on the Imperial River by Antaramian.

After working with the city for three years, Antaramian dropped out in April because the slowing economy wouldn’t justify building more than 100 condominium units on the site along with retail shops and restaurants. Two other major developments on nearby Dean Street are also stalled indefinitely.

The concept always was to create a walking downtown that people could park and enjoy or simply walk to from a surrounding neighborhood, so Nelson said having small businesses with no parking and little setback from the road isn’t an issue.

“The whole idea is that you are building this for the surrounding community,” he said. “You want people to walk there.”

With the slowing economy affecting restaurants and small retail businesses, too, the government should give upstarts every reasonable incentive to go downtown, Nelson said.

“That allows people who don’t have a lot of money to set up their business and get going,” he said.


The Bonita Springs City Council will have the first of its twice-monthly meetings at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall on 9101 Bonita Beach Road. Among the topics on the agenda are:

-- An update on the contract switch of community development services from Lee County to a private business.

-- The settlement of the East Terry Street widening project contract.

-- A review of the fertilizer ordinance.

-- Considering the options for newly acquired land along Imperial Parkway, which were given to the city as part of the road extension project.

-- Discussion of having more City Council meetings to discuss various topics before they are held to a vote.

-- The potential partnering of the city and the Bonita Springs concert band to provide free concerts.

-- The approval of a special event permit for the Literacy Council of Bonita Springs to have an Old 41 Road groundbreaking ceremony on June 12.

Living in the sun....
32 Posts
We have plenty of residential stock right now. We also have a lot of commercial... with most of it coming on-line being higher-end. I think some unique, and even some "Old-Florida" type of places to eat, see and shop would really make this area a neat destination.
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