Waterfront Restaurant Selected to Come to Downtown Fort Myers
05/04/2017 – Page A01
Two restaurants vied for the plum spot on the downtown Fort Myers riverfront Wednesday, and the winner is … read on.
Fort Myers is on a tear to “activate” its waterfront. Up to now, the city-owned pier building at 1300 Hendry St. has housed mostly offices. A restaurant here is a no-brainer to bring the central riverside location alive.
Out of four proposals, a panel of city employees picked two front-runners:
» Nationally renowned Columbia Restaurant, based in Tampa, and
» Mainsail Lodging and Development, which will break ground on a Marriott hotel, the Luminary, alongside the city’s Harborside Event Center on Edward’s Drive in June.
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Starting as an Ybor City saloon in 1903, Columbia Restaurant is not only Florida’s oldest but also among its most famous restaurants, with nationwide TV appearances and coveted locations from St. Augustine and Walt Disney World to Sarasota’s St. Armand’s Circle.
Columbia more than any American restaurant popularized dishes like the pressed Cuban sandwich, slow-cooked mole pork, paella and fresh sangria prepared table-side.
Its brand appeals to a very broad cross-section of locals and tourists; the kind of dining experience ! people consider a must-do when visiting Tampa or St. Augustine.
“We’ve wanted a presence here for year,” said Columbia Chairman Casey Gonzmart, the great-grandson of the restaurant’s founder Casimiro Hernandez Sr.
Being courted by a brand that normally has cities knocking on its door to open there is a mark of how far downtown Fort Myers has come in regional appeal.
Columbia promised to invest $2 million in the pier building and requested no capital investment or tenant allowance from the city. It would require some dedicated parking space.
Think Marriott, think upscale
Mainsail Lodging and Development made a 180-degree different proposal to the city: fold the pier building into an entire riverfront “activation! ” package of events for Marriott h! otel convention guests and the public.
Named for the river’s looping water bodies, its proposed Oxbow Restaurant includes an outfitters store and a floating dock (city-built) to rent kayaks and paddle boards, catch a water taxi or book an eco-tour.
“We’re taking it to a new level,” Mainsail President Joe Collier said. “Not purely a restaurant, but with the flexibility to use the building in the off hours, maybe for a private breakfast in the mornings for convention center guests.”
With water sports as well as waterfront food and dining, Mainsail promised to bring more attention to downtown by Lee County’s beach-minded Convention and Visitors Center.
Collier used Marriott to help sell the restaurant, showing that an overnight stay generates $5,000 versus $300 for a day trip “It’s more than a restaurant,” Collier said. “It’s a trickle-down wave of incremental revenue that raises all ships,” Only a small part of the revenue would trickle to other parts of the city; most would
be reinvested in the downtown riverfront redevelopment area.
Both concepts posed costs as well as revenue opportunities for the city, from additional parking to building a floating dock (about $30,000 for Mainsail) to building an over-water platform or deck (for Columbia, which would provide the outlay and take repayment through reduced rents.)
And the winner is …
“I hope there is a way to make all of them work.”
“I wish we could do both.”
“The location just looks like a Columbia Restaurant as it is right now.”
After these initial reactions, the panel unanimously ranked Mainsail’s proposal number one.
“I liked that Mainsail was going to ask the CVB to elevate their focus on downtown,” said Leigh Scrabis, who as director of the city’s community redevelopment agency has ascended to a position of planning power.
“Mainsail can activate other downtown businesses. Although a smaller restaurant, Its tentacles, have potential to impact more businesses downtown, panelist Richard Moulton said.
Scrabis also praised the synergy of the hotel and pier building, and felt Mainsail is “asking less financially”! (apart from the financial incentives it is getting from the city to build its hotel).
Their recommendation goes now to the city council, which will decide by vote at an upcoming regular meeting.
Mainsail Lodging and Development will break ground on a Marriott hotel, the Luminary, alongside the city’s Harborside Event Center on Edward’s Drive in June. Its proposed Oxbow Restaurant includes an outfitters store and a floating dock