Plan to build St. Matthews House shelter at old Bonita lumberyard site off the table

St. Matthew's House CEO Vann Ellison on NewsMakers

St. Matthew's House CEO Vann Ellison on NewsMakers

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Homeless center to Bonita Springs?

St. Matthew's House to Bonita Springs?

— A controversial plan to build a St. Matthew’s House homeless shelter at the site of an old lumberyard in Bonita Springs is off the table.

Vann Ellison, president and chief executive officer of the shelter, confirmed that the deal was off on Wednesday night because of economic reasons. He declined to elaborate.

“Our organization, financially we’re in good shape,” Ellison said. “I can’t really disclose the details of a private transaction or any other factors, but it became clear to us that economically this would not be a transaction that would make good business sense for us.”

In December, St. Matthew’s House officials approved a contract to purchase an 8.8 acre site at 28200 Old 41 Road, south of Bonita Beach Road, where Causeway Lumber used to be. The charity had planned to locate its facility at 27975 Old 41 Road, but backed out of its contract for that property when nearby residents and businesses objected.

However, the lumberyard location also did not sit well with some residents, including a group called the Concerned Citizens of Bonita.

According to the group’s website, its members were concerned about attracting troubled individuals to the area. They were also concerned about what the shelter would do to the community’s character, property values and the ultimate costs to businesses and residents.

Rocky Rodriguez, a local Realtor who represents the property, told the News-Press that the property was back on the market because the St. Matthew’s House had lost interest in buying the building. He told the paper that the “Sale Pending” sign in front of the Causeway Lumber site had been taken down a few days ago.

The St. Matthew’s House had initially hoped to break ground on the project in late 2011 with hopes of being ready to open in December 2012.

Despite the latest deal being off, Ellison said Wednesday night that his charity remains interested in expanding into south Lee County.

He said they need a site that is functional, viable and zoned appropriately for their needs, or able to be rezoned to meet their needs.

About 30 to 35 percent of the people who seek help at St. Matthew’s House in East Naples are from south Lee County, Ellison said last year. The charity’s thrift store in Bonita Springs distributes food to needy families, and serves about 100 families per week.

“We are very committed to our mission, and meeting the needs where they are,” Ellison said. “We know the needs are more significant than ever. ... We still see the overwhelming need, and we’re committed to finding a site that would be appropriate and would meet our basic economic constraints.”

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