Tom Hanson: Redevelopment goes on but debates abound


Maybe it’s appropriate that in a place like Bonita Springs where it can rain one minute and the sun shines the next, it had to get ugly.

Currently, the future is bright. Redevelopment, the Jack Antaramian $40 million mixed-use project, is alive. But its debate became as nasty as the landscape along the Old 41 Road corridor. The decision to nix negotiations with the Antaramian Group enraged the citizens. It was Proclamation Line of 1763 all over again. War wasn’t declared, but the people were angry.

It all boiled over at last weekend’s events that normally bond a community. The Fourth of July parade is about the stars and stripes forever. Yet, the locals — worried that the downtown would stay dilapidated forever — started an early fireworks show.

Martha Simons, a City Council member who voted against redevelopment only to reconsider along with Richard Ferreira on Wednesday night, received many dirty looks. She was even more appalled by the man at Riverside Park holding a sign asking for Councilman Alex Grantt’s resignation.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Simons said. “The personal attacks against Alex Grantt were uncalled for.”

City Councilman Pat McCourt never hid behind the fact that he didn’t care for the downtown plan. But McCourt found out the downtown people didn’t especially care for his position.

McCourt tried to have a simple lunch after the parade. He and his wife, Peggy, sat down at table No. 5 at the Dixie Moon Cafe. She ordered the grouper filet. He selected the grouper sandwich (a good choice).

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He got a plate full of criticism.

McCourt told his waitress, Pam Skelly, he had one question: “Where do they get the grouper?” Unfortunately for McCourt, Skelly had more than just an answer.

She started out with, “Are you the Bonita Springs city councilman?” She ended with, “What are you thinking?”

Skelly, a longtime Bonita Springs resident, told McCourt just what she thought about his stance on redevelopment.

“I’m angry,” said Skelly before the council reversed its decision this week. “He doesn’t understand that we really need this project.”

Skelly received a smattering of applause from other Dixie Moon patrons for standing up to McCourt. She also received a large tip from McCourt, who showed he can handle the heat of a kitchen.

“I was really surprised,” Skelly said. “He’s gave me a really good tip. Hopefully he got a few tips from me, too.”

McCourt should be commended for standing his ground and remaining opposed. But even he looked relieved after it was overturned.

“Democracy has been served,” McCourt said.

Simons says it’s time to mend the wounds. She’s even started the process by reaching out to opposition. She has spoken with redevelopment supporters John Spear and former Mayor Paul Pass. She wrote letters to John Bolan and Michael Quinn.

Last week’s unfortunate incidents proved that when it rains it pours. But if you think a little brick and mortar will give everyone a sunny disposition, listen to Simons.

“We need to reconcile,” Simons said. “Redevelopment is designed to create a community, but it’s not going to happen with only a building.”

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E-mail Tom Hanson at

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