March 08, 2021

East Lee residents plead to save fairgrounds, civic center, rural life

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Bill Smith
Fort Myers News-Press

Scene from the midway at the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair, which ends Sunday. The fair operator and a developer are competing for Lee County's nod for future use of the site.

Rural residents pleaded Friday for the future of the Lee Civic Center on Bayshore Road in rural North Fort Myers, speaking on behalf of farmers, 4-H club members, and lovers of fresh meat and produce.

Inspired by tales of doom for their rural lifestyle that has roiled social media in recent days and fueled by a proposal to bring mixed-use development to the fairgrounds, residents spoke with passion of the importance of the civic center in their lives and community.

Nineteen people, nearly all of them from eastern Lee County, spoke at a meeting of a county committee organized to give a first review to the proposals from the county fair association and a developer who wants the property for a resort and hotel.

All the speakers who took the microphone Friday urged the county to turn away from a plan from the developer of Babcock Ranch a few miles away in nearby Charlotte County that would turn the property into a complex of hotels, offices, shops and stores.

“It is the last standing and last remaining area of the county that has not been paved over,” said resident Henry Victor, setting the tone for those who spoke after him.

Resident Henry Victor, foreground, and Mike Peak, president of the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair Association listen at public meeting on the future of the Lee Civic Center property

Two proposals for the property were evaluated at the meeting. One is from the county fair association, formally the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair Association Inc., the current operator.

Opposition to Babcock Ranch proposal

The only other proposal came from Kitson & Partners Community Acquisitions LLC, a unit of the Palm Beach Gardens-based land development company.

Kitson is proposing a “complete site redevelopment, with the enhancement of additional land holdings” held by Kitson and Partners.

The Kitson firm is building Babcock Ranch, a community of more than 19,500 homes in nearby Charlotte County a short distance away on State Road 31.