Hotel construction could close well-liked Fort Myers ramp

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Some boaters are becoming wary of construction plans that may eventually cause the closure of a public ramp on the Caloosahatchee River.

The boat ramp, located near Edwards Drive in downtown Fort Myers, is one of a few free options for fishers, crabbers and recreational boaters in the area. One crabber, Roger Byrd, uses the ramp regularly as a launch site and does not want to take on additional costs if it closes.

“It makes you go somewhere else and it may cost you $50 to $60 a week to launch,” said Byrd, who uses the boat ramp to catch crabs from the Caloosahatchee River. “That’s money out of your pocket.”

The boat ramp near Edwards Drive is preferred to the other closest, free and public ramp, which is located next to the Oasis Towers. That ramp is tough to maneuver, some boaters complain.

“The trailer parking is more than 100 yards away. It’s not a good alternative,” Byrd said of the ramp near the Oasis Towers.

Local businesses, who use the city-owned ramp to launch customers’ boats, are also concerned with the idea of the popular location closing.

“Well, we hate to see the ramp shut down,” said Michael Leuneburg of Scottie’s Marine. “It’s part of our life-blood. We’re here on a daily basis.”

But if building begins for a new Sheraton Hotel, the city said it may need to use Edwards Drive ramp and surrounding property to store construction materials.

The site of the proposed hotel is next to Harborside Event Center and a city parking lot. Fort Myers officials said the approximately 40 metered parking spots and spaced for trailers will not be available, pending construction to the hotel.

“It’s a very tight site between Harborside and the water basin, for the hotel,” said Don Paight, the executive director of the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency. “So the contractor has asked about using some, maybe all of the boat ramp area. More likely it’ll be some of that space for a staging area.”

Closing nearby boat parking in addition to metered parking is another possibility, the city said.

“It’s already congested downtown as it is, so you hate to lose any parking because we need all we can get down here,” Lerneburg said.

“That is something that is still being looked at and it won’t be determined until we get closer to construction time,” Paight said.

Caloosahatchee Riverwatch, a local advocacy group, is alerting boaters that the ramp may be facing closure. Paight said Riverwatch’s warning to residents is “premature.”

“It’s a little premature because we don’t know exactly what those staging needs will be,” he said.

Final decisions on the fate of the city boat ramp will not be made until the summer or fall of 2016, but the expected decision depends on the whether plans for hotel move forward.

Until then, people like Roger Byrd will continue to hope the ramp is unaffected.

“I like it here,” Byrd said. “And I’d like to see it stay open.”

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