SWFL hurricane shelters use grant money for more fortification

Reporter: Taylor Wirtz Writer: Joey Pellegrino

Six weeks remain in 2021’s hurricane season, and Lee County is making sure its emergency shelters are still safe, with a focus on Hertz Arena and Alico Arena, considered key shelters in Southwest Florida for a number of reasons.

For one, they can both hold large numbers of people, with Hertz actually being the largest shelter in Lee County, having held around 6,000 people during Hurricane Irma. Another reason is both arenas’ close proximity to I-75, which means they can serve as shelters in cases where people need to evacuate from other parts of Florida. \

The suggested work would harden the roofs, windows and doors at both arenas, with $4.5 million going to Hertz and $2.8 million going to Alico. The money comes from Florida Department of Economic Opportunity grants.

Craig Brush, president of Hertz Arena, says while the structure is safe already, he’s open to anything that will make it even more secure.

“We’ve been open since 1998, so things change a little bit in that regard,” Brush said. “That will be welcomed by us in terms of the security that we can provide. We’re here to help and we’ll take as many people in as we can.”

Brush remembers how the community came to depend on the arena during Hurricane Irma.

“We basically had as many as 6000 people in here,” Brush said. “I had people actually sleeping in my office. Basically, you’re feeding people nonstop, because when breakfast ends, it’s time for lunch… with that many people here. We did our duty and we’re happy and proud to do that.”

The Lee County Board of Commissioners is set to vote on approving funding agreements for this project at its meeting Tuesday morning.

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