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Seven Islands: Win-win — and win?

By Staff | Feb 25, 2022

A plan years in the making is coming to fruition — the city has a buyer for its “Seven Islands” acreage.

Forest Development has offered to buy the 47-acre parcel located on Old Burnt Store Road along the North Spreader canal for $20 million to build a multi-phase project in line with the concept plan approved by Council in November 2016.

If the sale is approved by the Cape Coral City Council, the companion development plan calls for a “destination development” of nearly 1,000 residential units, a hotel, marina, commercial village as well as public amenities.

We supported the development concept on which this proposal is premised back in 2016.

We support that development concept now.

Kudos to city staff for its efforts thus far and applause to Forest Development for seeing not only the potential of the city’s concept plan but for its confidence in the Cape itself.

A $20 million land buy for a project expected to come in at $650 million all told is confidence, indeed.

Some history:

The Seven Islands are a series of man-made “hammerheads” surrounded by water and connected to 47 small lots also owned by the city via a series of earthen “driveways.”

Strung along the North Spreader in northwest Cape Coral, the collective acreage provides a breathtaking view of preserve lands across the waterway.

City officials have called the site, acquired as part of a $13 million foreclosure land buy during the Great Recession, “a gem.”

A gem it is and development, with a defined public amenity component, was to give it shine.

There was much public debate with options ranging from a minimal approach calling for single-family residential, restaurants and buildings no more than three stories, to the most development intensive, which would have allowed 11- to 12-story high-rises, along with a hotel with a conference center, marina, 70,000-square-foot commercial village component and other residential options.

Council landed somewhat in the middle, approving in 2016 option D-1, which will allow nearly 1,000 mostly multi-family residential units, 45,000 square feet of commercial/office, a 240-room hotel with 25,000 square feet of meeting space, a 40,000-square-foot community center, a 280-slip marina, and much more.

It now looks like that plan is poised to proceed.

Forest Development’s offer includes plans to build a multi-phase project in line with the approved concept plan the city put out for request for proposals.

The company, which submitted the top-ranked RFP, has named its proposed project Gulf Gateway Resort and Marina with work — should Council approve the sale — to begin as early as August and going until completion of the final phase of condo construction in 2030.

A couple of things, though, both highlighted well by Mayor John Gunter at Wednesday’s Council workshop at which the elected board got an update on where negotiations between city staff and Forest Development have thus far led.

Notably missing from the anticipated Gulf Gateway Resort and Marina development timeline was much mention of any public aspect to the project at all.

Mayor Gunter flagged the missing element of the called-for community center — which also is missing from the city’s own financial projection of its financial net.

Also lacking were details concerning any set-aside for a park, “public edge” boardwalk around the waterfront or details on a public component regarding the marina, listed in the concept plan as a public marina and launch/boat slips.

The developer and staff each said the details are still being hammered out.

Well and good.

We look forward to seeing those, ahem, details which one would think had already been readied for consideration of not only Council but the public.

The mayor’s second flag — picked up by other members of Council as well — is also a valid concern.

As tendered, the city would provide $2.5 million in economic incentives to the developer following closing:

* $500,000 upon approval of first building permit for commercial space

* $1 million upon issuance of first certificate or temporary certificate of occupancy for any commercial space

* $500,000 upon the submission of the first building permit for residential space and

* $500,00 upon the issuance of first certificate or temporary certificate of occupancy for residential space

As stated by Council, the incentives lack specificity.

They also seem to be out of wack concerning some of the things the city had hoped to accomplish — and when.

A $1.5 million incentive to… build space for a restaurant? A kitschy little gift shop?

A cool million for… the first “fish house” residence?

Why a million dollars for the residential component — the primary purpose of a developer buying the property — at all?

And getting a pretty good bargain at that.

The $20 million purchase price offer is, indeed, the appraised price. As of May 2021 as the real estate market continues to escalate.

So yes, a win for Forest Development, to which we wish every success.

Yes, a win for the city, which has worked long and hard to reach this point.

The next step in the process is the submission of the development plan, which Mayor Gunter says will provide the details that now are lacking.

We look forward to seeing that pending plan, including a timetable that includes an amenities component that hopefully will come sooner rather than later.

This should assure residents — from whom, after all, the seed money came — that this “destination development” will be much more than a just place to enjoy a nice lunch or dinner and a great view.

That would make this project a win-win — and win.

— Breeze editorial