In the Know: Dr. Frantz breaks ground on $20 million eye care facility off I-75

David Dorsey
Fort Myers News-Press

Dr. Jonathan Frantz established his eye care practice in a modest office about the size of an upper middle-class home with 2,700 square feet in 1994.

On Friday, ceremonial shovel in hand, Frantz tossed dirt in front of what will become his new, 60,000-square foot eye care headquarters, about 22 times the size of his original space.

Stevens Construction will manage the $20 million-plus project.

Gary Tasman, CEO of Cushman & Wakefield, brokered the land, which Frantz closed on for $3.3 million in February from the seller, Alan Freeman, who at one point owned most of the land along Three Oaks Parkway, which was so named because he has three children.

FineMark National Bank & Trust is financing Frantz’s project.

Frantz Eye Care headquarters, currently located at 12731 New Brittany Blvd., in Fort Myers, near Summerlin Road and College Parkway, projects to relocate to the new location by Feb. 1, 2022.

Dr. Jonathan Franz of Frantz Eye Care speaks at the ground breaking ceremony for his new facility off Alico Road in south Fort Myers.

Tasman also will broker the current Frantz building, which will be vacated next year.

The new Frantz location will have visibility off I-75, just west of the interstate, north of Alico Road and east of Three Oaks Parkway. It will have an address of 9716 Gulf Research Lane.

Visiting the site revealed a cluster of construction activity, with Seagate Development building the new corporate headquarters for cancer diagnostics company NeoGenomics just to the north of Frantz and the new corporate headquarters for food distribution company Scotlynn just to the south.

More:In the Know: Scotlynn Group building headquarters off Alico Road, I-75

“We wanted to be a marquee location for eye care,” said Frantz, who also has a 10,000-square-foot office in Naples with two operating rooms.

The new Lee County location will have four operating rooms and room for his team of 18 physicians and almost 200 employees.

“The logistics of the new location are so well-suited for a corporate headquarters,” Tasman said. “You’re near I-75. You’re near FGCU. You’re near the airport.

“All of the builders and contractors are going to see the need to be here.”

The dynamics of running a private practice have changed with recent business trends over the years, Frantz said, as many corporate behemoths have taken over and consolidated many other local eye care practices.

Frantz said he didn’t want to become a part of that trend, so he has grown on his own.

“Most of these eye care practices have been bought up by huge groups of investors,” Frantz said. “They buy the practices, leverage them and then the doctors really are no longer running the practice. Then they try to sell the practice. As a result of that, they make decisions about who stays and who goes, physicians, recruiting.”

Instead of relying on some outside investment conglomerate about growth decisions, Frantz calls his own shots.

“We are the largest physician-owned, physician-led, private eye care practice in Southwest Florida,” Frantz said.

Retina surgeries to glaucoma care, plastic surgery for eyelids, cataracts, cornea care or just prescribing new glasses, Frantz’s practice does it all.

“We have the latest and what we believe to be the greatest technology in Southwest Florida,” Frantz said. “It will continue to be led by a physician whose primary focus is taking care of the patients the best we can.”

Born and raised in Miami, Frantz did his residency and fellowship in refractive surgery and cornea work in New Orleans. He said he was part of the first laser vision surgery as the assistant surgeon, and he performed the first laser vision surgery in Lee County.

“I had my heart set on going back to Miami,” Frantz said, until falling in love with Lee County. “This is such a great area to live. In Miami, it’s so overbuilt. There’s so much traffic. I feel like we are positioned really, really well on the west coast for growth.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Frantz lauded his first employee, office manager Tammy Moore, who was on hand and in her 27th year.

“Tammy Moore, she is a rock star,” Frantz said. “When it comes to putting this stuff together, I don’t know how I could have gotten any luckier. No person can do it by themselves. We’re trying to continue to recruit all-star people.”

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Timing was right

While the Great Recession put a damper on Frantz’s previous plans to build a new headquarters elsewhere in 2007, the COVID-19 pandemic economic repercussions were not enough to stop him this time.

“This is a really challenging time for everybody with the pandemic and the economic challenges,” Frantz said. “And yet, we think that the best is really yet to come for Southwest Florida. Especially Lee and Collier County.

“By positioning ourselves near the interstate, we feel we’ll be able to draw from people farther north and bring some of their business into Lee County. We just feel really lucky to be here. We think the demographics are extraordinary here. We’ve worked hard. We’re committed to our dreams, and our dreams have mostly come true.

My commitment is, when people come to Southwest Florida, they know they’re going to get premiere quality eye care.”

Timing was wrong

In 2007, Frantz purchased 66 acres for $17.6 million from investor Samir Cabrera in the southwest corner of I-75 and Daniels Parkway. That land also has interstate visibility.

Cabrera later was sentenced to prison for wire fraud and money laundering in 2009 related to other real estate deals along other parts of Daniels Parkway.

Frantz’s land is zoned for agriculture and serves as grazing land for cows.

Lee County plans to extend Three Oaks Parkway to connect with Daniels Parkway. This could mean the county buys some of Frantz’s land there for the connection.

That could spur Frantz and Tasman to find another investor to buy and develop it.

“We believe in the property,” Frantz said. “And we recognize all commercial real estate went through that period of time. We weren’t at the point where we could realize its full value. What we didn’t want to do is run the ball 99 yards and let someone else take the ball in for the score. I feel like we’ve done all the heavy lifting. There are a lot of good things happening with the property.”

I asked Frantz: Why not build his corporate headquarters off I-75 and Daniels Parkway instead?

Frantz considered that. At one point, he also had NeoGenomics under contract to build there instead. But the land off Three Oaks Parkway was entitled and ready to be permitted to build.

That’s not the case with the Daniels Parkway land off I-75, where an eagle was living until almost two year ago, and where more than 80% of the property is considered wetlands.

“At the time we bought it, there was an eagle’s nest on the property,” Frantz said. “The eagle abandoned her next. This May will be two years that an eagle has not lived there. That’s a big issue. There’s going to be a lot more usable land there than people realize.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a better corner that is vacant. We feel pretty good about it. We think it’s a pretty compelling story. Just because people don’t recognize it yet doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

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Market Trends March 9

Randy Thibaut, a commercial real estate broker and owner of LSI Companies, has expanded his annual real estate event and enlisted the help of fellow real estate brokers Denny Grimes of Keller Williams and Stan Stouder of CRE Consultants.

They will present Market Trends, which will take place virtually because of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The event will be free with registration and will begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 9. More information on how to access the event can be found at markettrendsswfl.com.

Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).