Boom, Boom Bonita! City Undergoing Residential and Commercial Development SurgeNov 23, 2020 05:00PM ● By JEFF LYTLE
“In the last 40 years, I have never seen a June, July, August and/or September like this!”
That size-up of the Bonita Springs residential and commercial development surge carries the weight of someone with special insights: Ben Nelson has been a Bonita policymaker as a longtime mayor and council member; he runs a prominent marine contracting firm; and he sits on the Bonita Springs Utilities board that quenches growth demands.
The surge started rumbling in Bonita three years ago when three major rental apartment complexes, totaling 1,000 units, were announced simultaneously. All of them—Mosaic at Oak Creek, Versol, and The Crest—are now up and running. So are subdivisions such as Bonita National, Seasons, and Valencia Bonita.
Most remarkable is that the boom comes despite a conga line of hard times three years’ long, starring Hurricane Irma, red tide/blue-green algae blooms, and COVID-19. Nelson offers up “just a theory”: “During the pandemic, a lot of people from up North stayed here longer, and so now they and others—with money—are buying and preparing properties here so they won’t get stuck inside or in an urban environment up North all winter.
“They want to be outside—in a boat, on the beach or on a golf course, instead of being locked down. Even if they’re locked down here, they will still lie by the pool and go out in the boat,” Nelson adds.
Longtime area real estate broker and analyst Ross McIntosh says it all comes down to money—and it’s available cheaply to developers these days. Although McIntosh acknowledges a boom amid a pandemic does seem “counterintuitive.”
The wave of big commercial, residential and mixed-use developments will provide restaurants and stores that residents of subdivisions east of Interstate 75 have longed for. And the new homes will drive even more commercial amenities.
Hot Spots for Projects
Much of the local government approval process has taken place since winter residents left, so they are in store for lots of news now. To help readers grasp the enormity of the Bonita surge, let’s break it down to projects west of U.S. Route 41, projects around downtown, and projects closer to I-75.
Folks headed toward the beach will be encountering a new landscape—including a luxury car/boat/RV condo called Bonita Breeze, with 25 units starting at $289,000 in four buildings on 1.7 acres, replacing a car wash. The location is stylish, far from customary industrial parks. A project official, with Lee & Associates, says the site is ideally situated for affluent clients from Vanderbilt Beach and Bonita Beach.
On the drawing board: a hotel named after nearby Barefoot Beach, with as many as 202 rooms, plus 42 condos in three buildings up to 75 feet high. It will be located a mile and a half from the beach, on nearly five acres. More than 10,000 square feet of shops and dining will be open to the public.
Close by, a 25-acre mega resort called Cabana will take the established 80 vacation rentals at the one-acre Bonita Village and kick it up several notches. Cabana’s developer, Omer Dror, a candidate to become Bonita’s next mayor, envisions an additional 260 hotel rooms and 140 condos; five restaurants; a high-end wine, cheese and food market; water slides, a lazy river and waves for surfing; and a shuttle to the beach—all with public access.
On the east side of Bonita Beach Road, which locals call “The Beach Road,” a new card room deals on the north side of the now-retired greyhound race track acreage, and a new strip center with unlikely partners—Dunkin Donuts and Sherwin-Williams—joins a new Aspen Dental. And a major facelift is coming for an office building at Bonita Beach Road and Old 41, a gateway to downtown.
Inching eastward, the cleared southeast corner of Bonita Beach Road and I-75 hosts a much-anticipated project. Horizon Park will feature two hotels, 50,000 square feet of medical offices, followed by a retail center with outparcels, reports Bob Pekol, senior retail associate for LandQwest, who could not name tenants in advance of signed contracts. “The approximately 8,000 homes along six miles of newer residential communities on Bonita Beach Road east of I-75 are a greatly underserved restaurant and retail trade area,” he observes.
Meanwhile, an abutting project to the east, the modern-styled, sprawling SouthLinks Commons, anchored by owner/developer McGarvey Construction Co., has launched its final two phases with 80,000 square feet of flex-space to join the existing offices, shops, light manufacturing and even a brewpub.
A few blocks east are two of the marquee coming attractions, both by veteran developers with local credentials, on Bonita Grande Drive about a mile from I-75. Midtown, on 67 wooded acres once targeted for a Walmart, will front on Bonita Beach Road. It will offer up to 482 condos and 165 hotel rooms as high as six stories, and as much as 315,000 square feet of commercial space as high as five stories.
Water management is an emphasis in the flood-prone area. Sixty percent of Midtown’s lakes and woods are being preserved by Zuckerman Homes, based in Broward County and builders of Sienna Reserve in Naples and Hammock Cove and Venetian Pointe in Fort Myers.
Just to the north, today’s Bonita Grande Mine will bring some 700 homes to 1,268 acres now used as a major supplier of rocks and sand. Oakbrook Properties is no stranger, having built Coconut Point, Spanish Wells, Bonita Isles and much more locally.
Already up and running in the same vicinity of Bonita Beach Road is the Logan Boulevard Extension. It is a joint venture with developers and Collier County, bringing North Naples within a leisurely, slow-speed 10-minute drive through wooded preserves.
“I think the commercial developers have watched the multiple residential developments that have been built or are coming to the Bonita/Estero area during the past couple years and planned these commercial projects,” observes Phil Wood. The CEO of Southwest Florida’s John R. Wood & Associates Realtors adds, “Now, even if there’s a slight doubt in their mind, they’re not going to put the brakes on because they already have a lot invested in making the projects come to fruition.”
As Nelson points out: “It just feels reminiscent of a couple of other times when the building economy went wild. But the numbers look like this surge has legs.”
Several planned projects are located away from the three hot spots. At Bonita’s border with Estero, Bayview is the name of London Bay Homes’ 30-acre showcase next to Hyatt Place Coconut Point and Raptor Bay Golf Club. LBH places distinct emphasis on the marina, replacing a fishing camp that was a historic Estero Bay landmark. “It’s going to be a special place,” a spokesperson says, “with a public park called Sunset Point, a separate kayak/paddleboard launch, public restrooms, and a small ships store, all paid for by London Bay.”
This fall, Bayview was in the midst of permitting with the city of Bonita, seeking approval for 300 units in a 20-story tower and multiple 75-foot-high buildings, each with its own parking. Bayview was being proposed as a possible Continuing Care Retirement Community or a conventional residential project.
Meanwhile, in the heart of downtown Bonita near the new library, the aptly named Terry Street Assemblage project is a work in progress. Tony Mansolillo, project owner, says he wants to downsize the approved 80 residential units spread among five four-story buildings, most with shops and stores at street level. He says empty nesters now want homes smaller than the 2,000 square feet he first planned.
Mansolillo also says he’s adding more properties to his holdings around Old U.S. 41 and Terry Street for uses including a parking garage, which could help solve a downtown redevelopment headache. He says he’s in no hurry to break ground and will have everything lined up before he starts construction on his neighborhood game-changer.
The city itself was reviewing bids from developers to build a vibrant, mixed-use riverfront project, Imperial Crossing, on six public acres on Old 41. Most of the site, now used for parking for parades and art festivals, used to be a blighted trailer park.
On Old 41 near the refurbished Shangri La Springs and Mosaic at Oak Creek apartments, Paul Benson is bringing forward his half-block Longitude project. It comprises 29 condos/houses mixed with stores and office space, in tune with the trend toward working from home. A stone’s throw away on Old 41 North is a new flex-space commercial strip in Bernwood Business Park, and a similar project with festive awnings graces Old 41 South near the dog track.
This Is Just a Peek
So there you have it. And remember, this is just a peek of what’s ahead for Bonita Springs, which only 40 years ago was a mere wide spot on the road between Naples and Fort Myers. Now its official population count exceeds 57,000.
Parts of Bonita are about to become totally different, with new looks and new uses. Out with the old and funky—and in with the new and active. I’ve lived and worked as a journalist in this area since 1975. What is stirring now reminds me of the evolution of the Naples area that took root in the 1980s.
Growth may even drive a reopening of discussion of a Bonita Beach Road overpass at U.S. 41 just to keep up. Connect the dots of all these projects and you start to see the big picture.
Jeff Lytle is the retired editorial page editor and TV host from the Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.