Fort Myers was prepared to build a much-needed new police station, but multiple factors — a new mayor, a new city council, a pandemic and, most of all, the price — have led to talk of scrapping that plan.
The Fort Myers Police Department took WINK News behind the scenes to see why it says there is an urgent need for a new location, like an evidence room so over-filled that storage pods in the parking lot are used to house evidence, even in murder cases. The parking lot is also too small to hold the department’s cars, so they end up stored around town.
Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs says the parking lot is also where officers do roll call, “because the roll call room isn’t big enough.”
“I’ve got command officers whose offices were in a closet,” Diggs said.
He pointed to a watch commander’s office so small—6 feet by 8 feet—that you can’t even squeeze a chair in front of the desk, and it’s under a leaky roof.
The old Southwest Florida News-Press building right down the street was supposed to be the answer. New plans would have completely transformed it, but the cost of renovating this building went from around $34 million to more than $80 million, which Mayor Kevin Anderson says is way too much.
“I think, initially, we were just told a lower price,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if that was intentionally to get us to buy into it.”
Anderson says the prior city manager initially put the deal together. The current price tag is in the $60 million range; a lot of money, but well below the $84 million Tallahassee is spending to renovate an old shopping mall.
Six Fort Myers City Council members and the mayor all have different ideas about how to address a problem they agree is urgent.
“It is a good time to hit the pause button,” said Councilman Liston Bochette.
“It may take a little negotiation, but, as I’ve said… life is one big negotiation,” Anderson said. “And I’m confident we can work through this.”
Options now include everything from selling off the News-Press Property which fronts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fowler Street to renovating the new site in phases.
“And if somebody comes along with the right offer, I’d be all for selling it,” Anderson said.
“We only have so many resources and we have to pick out, you know, ‘Chief, what do you want first?'” Liston said.
But the architect in charge says phases may not be possible, so the focus is on getting it started at all, if everyone with a vote can agree on what they are starting.
“You can’t be a 21st century police agency in a 1980s building,” Diggs said.
“I’m optimistic on things, o I am hoping that within a year we will be turning dirt,” Anderson said.
Councilwoman Teresa Watkins Brown says Fort Myers needs to move ahead with the old News-Press Site but thinks some of the money could possibly be made up in the future by moving City Hall to the same place and selling off the current City Hall, an idea Liston Bouchette also brought up. Councilman Fred Burson says he will have a hard time voting for the $60 million cost, but he might be persuaded.
Any council members not quoted for this story did not respond to WINK News’ requests for comment.