County leaders announce new developments, address growth Chamber of Commerce holds State of County session
February 25, 2022
By Betsy Calvert - The Daily SUn
Rapid growth is creating opportunities and problems for Charlotte County businesses, government and law enforcement, according to community leaders speaking at a State of the County online assembly. One opportunity is a potential $100 million investment in rebuilding the Promenades Mall along U.S. 41 to include 1,100 apartments on top floors, 17,500 square feet of office space in the middle and a walkable retail area on the ground level, Economic Development Director Dave Gammon told an online gathering of local leaders Wednesday. Hosted by the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce, speakers promoted their accomplishments in 2021 and laid out the big projects coming this year.
Punta Gorda & Englewood Visitor & Convention Bureau has hired a new person to market 55,000 square feet of new conference space opening in 2023 at the new Sunseeker resort, Tourism Director Sean Doherty said. “That’s going to be really a game changer for us,” Doherty said of the resort owned by Allegiant Airlines that is expected to open early next year. Gammon agreed. “Sunseeker is going to change Charlotte County forever,” he said. “People all over the country are looking at this.” Growth has led to new problems in law enforcement, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Andres Rodriguez said.
“We’re now getting 911 calls from areas that previously just had cows,” he said, adding the county is still a community where residents feel safe enough to walk outside at night. Looking back at the pandemic in 2021, law enforcement saw increases in mental health problems and drug overdoses, Rodriguez said. Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell initiated a new team approach with behavioral health and medical staff to keep these cases out of the jail.
For Punta Gorda, Manager Greg Murray said the city managed to change long-standing problems in budgeting in the last year, so that will no longer empty its reserves. It will continue to pursue the annexation of properties that lie within the city’s outline and service area, thus gaining taxes for property the city is already serving with police and fire. And the city must address how to fill prominent, vacant commercial lots without triggering resident objections to tall buildings, he said.
Growth is being fueled by a nationwide migration to Florida. The median sale price of a home jumped 26% from 2020 to 2021, said Sharon Neuhofer, head of the Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, North Port Association of Realtors. Inventory is so low, there’s only a one-month supply of homes now, she said. Home builders are struggling to keep up with demand, said Donna Barrett, chief executive officer of the Charlotte DeSoto Building Industry Association.
The production of materials has broken down worldwide, she said, leading to such delays as 52 weeks at one time for windows. It’s down to 28 weeks for windows, she said. To address the shortage of people in construction, she said, the CDBIA is providing scholarships to local high school students who want to study construction. If you want to build a house now, she said, expect it to take up to two years.
Punta Gorda Airport CEO James Parish said the airport met with six airlines last week interested in learning more about the the area. He also spoke of the imminent completion of a new air center for noncommercial flights. The center has space to be used for meetings and special events with catering and technology. Compared to four years ago, schools have increased enrollment, teacher pay, and school ranking, School Committee member Kim Amontree said. But third-grade reading proficiency dropped, most likely due to online learning during the pandemic, she said.
At the county level, Deputy Administrator Emily Lewis highlighted the latest year of the pandemic in which the county distributed $5.7 million in federal and local aid to residents and businesses, $1 million to nonprofits and water and sewer payment assistance to 618 households.
In the coming year, Lewis said, the county will be lobbying on behalf of residents who recently learned their federal flood insurance will climb dramatically. The county will also complete long-running road projects such as Olean Boulevard, plus start new projects including fire stations and the Port Charlotte Beach Complex renovation. Many residents and some officials have told Gammon that they want to slow down growth to maintain the county’s small town charm. Growth will happen one way or another here, Gammon said, because of the tens of thousands of still vacant tiny lots sold by General Development starting in the 1950s.
Most of those empty lots have no sidewalks, sewers or water lines, he noted. So the county needs to use its new mixed use re-zoning category to encourage more creative development that creates a sense of better community. And the county needs to attract more younger people to work and diversity the community, he added.