Dec. 18, 2022
The Post Hurricane Evolution of Fort Myers Beach
Hurricane Ian ripped through southwest Florida in the fall of 2022. It left a path of destruction that many residents had not experienced in their lifetime. The coastal cities of Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Sanibel/Captiva and many other barrier island were not only ravaged but, in some circumstances, building sites were wiped clean. Entire buildings were washed away, plus coastlines and the landscape of our communities were forever changed.
In circumstances like this, Americans are strong and rally to help each other. The camaraderie that happens after a storm of this magnitude is amazing to experience. It is the glimmer of hope we all look for in humanity. Everyone comes together and we all look out for one other. We all protect each other and our absent neighbor’s property. We hear vows of rebuilding secretly knowing that it’s not going to be possible in many circumstances. When we’re down and out nobody wants to say the quiet part out loud.
Southwest Florida is about three months out from landfall of Hurricane Ian. The beaches are still closed which is still mind blowing and difficult to process. Many buildings and structures are still uninhabited. Coastal homes and condo buildings are still in process of determining if they are structurally sound and if they will ever be habitable again. This storm was a strong category four, creeping in on cat five, when it hit the coast. The winds battered us but storm surge that Ian delivered was mind bending. In Bonita Springs alone there were homes that took surge in the river basin east of Old 41 Road. It deserves mentioning because it seems the media and political dignitaries seemed to skip right over beautiful Bonita Springs and landed their helicopters where the donors live. Many gulf-access homes, especially those on the Imperial River and bays were compromised. The homes and condos directly on the coastal beaches took the brunt of this beast of a hurricane, however.
Prior to Hurricane Ian, Fort Myers Beach has had an ‘olde Florida’ charm that drew visitors from around the world. The kitschy, older buildings, many from the mid and late 1900’s were built when storm codes and flood elevations were basically non-existent by today’s standards. Many of the structures were built before the Florida Coastal Construction Line of 1978 and the National Flood Insurance program of 1968 and flood elevation requirements have changed dramatically in the last fifty years.
Fort Myers Beach was popular with the locals and visitors alike. Because of the legacy building codes there was a ground level walkability factor between hotels, bars, restaurants and the shops closer to Times Square. Most of the ‘mom and pop’ restaurants and bars were built at or very close to beach level so patrons could walk right out the door, drink in hand, and have their feet in sand. Besides adult beverages, this environment also served up a delicious entrée of people watching, too. Fort Myers Beach was quintessential flip flop, bikini wearing and melting pot of casual beach life. You can close your eyes and almost imagine the smell of salt air, coconut sunscreen, canola restaurant grill exhaust being punctuated with the rev of a Harley electric glide on Estero Blvd. Fort Myers Beach delivered miles of sandy beach with vibe unlike anything else on the gulf coast.
Now, three months later, the boulevard is still dusted with sand at the edge that is reminiscent of drifting snow. There are barricades on the shoulders of the road and the ground floors are washed out most buildings. In fact, there are whole structures wiped away, gone. Many buildings have not been certified by an engineer or had an electrical inspection which are prerequisites for power to be turned back on for habitation. The damages are so extreme that there are condominium complexes that do not expect electrical service to be restored until fall of 2023. Countless structures, both residential and commercial, will be demolished under the FEMA fifty percent rule and this will change the face of Fort Myer Beach.
The ugly truth of rebuilding on the coast of Southwest Florida is that it’s at one of the costliest times in American history to permit, source supplies and develop new construction. The quiet part being said out loud would include that fact that when the properties get rebuilt it will be luxury status, luxury hotel suites and restaurants. The developers may try to replicate a facsimile of the casual beach lifestyle, but it will be done on top of real estate worth millions of dollars and, quite frankly, somebody’s got to pay the vig and that will be the patrons of these establishments.
Immediately after the hurricane real estate started changing hands. Gulf front residential sites are listed in prices ranges from about $2-4 million and, most recently, the land where The Cottage and Shuckers became available for $16M. While there are still going to be proprietors who hang in there and rebuilt, there are legacy properties that will have come down, forced by government regulation and insurance costs. The corporate establishments will have their shingles out before you know it. They’re negotiating in the back ground and trying to cobble together parcels to expand their properties as you read this.
Whether a weekend warrior or a vacationer who flew halfway around the world to enjoy that sandy stretch of Lee County it will be different on the next visit. Southwest Floridians, grateful to be alive, are still licking their wounds and working on getting back to the new normal. For some establishments there will be signs that have the Hurricane Ian “water level was this high” arrow but we would be lying to ourselves if we didn’t recognize that in a few short years visitors will be valet parking their car and taking an elevator up to the “ground floor” to enjoy brunch at the beach behind impact rated, glass railings.
- Chris Griffith
Chris is a SWFL Realtor with decades of experience. She's also a special feature columnist, best selling author and public speaker. Please direct inquires through the website contact link.