How Fort Myers’ Historic River District Experienced a New Dawn
If you’ve never experienced the Downtown Fort Myers Historic River District or haven’t been there since the early 2000’s, you owe it to yourself to revisit this charming and rejuvenated destination.
Many people know the downtown area of Fort Myers solely for the location of the famed Thomas Edison Winter Home and Museum, located on palm-lined McGregor Boulevard less then a mile from downtown. But venturing east a few more blocks along McGregor will unveil countless new entertainment, cultural, historic, and culinary destinations that have brought new life to this now-thriving part of town.
If you’ve been a Lee County resident since the 1980’s and 1990’s, you may recall that the downtown area was nothing at all compared to what has been created since then, with many thinking the area was doomed for bulldozing and could never amount to anything. Enter a strategic and forward-thinking redevelopment plan produced and overseen by the Community Redevelopment Agency, (CRA), in 2003, and the rebirth of this historic part of Fort Myers was underway.
The CRA enlisted the help and insight of renowned planner and architect Andres Duany to come up with a plan to include not just commercial business space but also plentiful residential, work, dining, and entertainment opportunities all within walking distance from one another. This modern, urban planning is based on having access to everything one could need within just a few blocks from home, limiting or completely eliminating the need for a car.
Because of the proximity to the Lee County Courthouse and other legal entities like court reporting and other firms, there are hundreds of law firms located in the historic River District. Other entrepreneurs saw the need for shared office space and business-incubation and development space, and the area is home to several office space developments, many located in some of the city’s most historic old buildings.
Over the past 14 years or so, hundreds of businesses of all types have discovered the Downtown Fort Myers Historic River District, making it a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
Eat, Drink and be Merry
As you may expect, the Historic River District became a prime location for restaurants and nightspots representing every possible type of dining to please any palate.
Beginning within a stone’s throw from the Edison Estate, you may choose the 2nd floor Pincher’s Crab Shack and its delectable seafood menu while overlooking the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.
Heading further east into the River District, foodies can sample upscale Italian fare at Capone’s Wood Fired Pizza, succulent steak and local favorites at Firestone Bar & Grill, enjoy one of the best burgers you’ll ever have at the famous Ford’s Garage or make a special night of it at the historic Veranda, serving classic southern cuisine since 1978 in one of downtown’s oldest former homes.
There are dozens more featuring everything from subs to burritos, to a classic brunch or New England seafood specialties – the historic downtown Fort Myers River District is now home to establishments operated by far-sighted entrepreneurs and local business leaders.
If the nightlife is more your style, have a moonlit cocktail atop the Firestone’s popular Sky Bar or belly up to one of the friendliest bars in town at City Tavern. Many of the venues downtown feature live entertainment in just about any musical style you can imagine.
If you want to enjoy the evening without the risk of getting behind the wheel, you can spend the night at the impressive Luminary Hotel, opened in 2021, a truly magnificent, upscale hotel with sweeping river panoramas, 2 restaurants, valet parking and much more.
Supporters of the arts are drawn to the storied Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, home to art exhibits, gallery showings, musical and artistic performances and much more. They will even host your private business function, luxurious wedding or other event in the historic building that once was a federal courthouse.
Theater buffs can take in a live play at the famed Repertory Theater located within the Arcade Theatre Building, where the ensemble cast stages world-class comedic and dramatic shows and musicals.
A Center of Attractions
City and business leaders realized that people need a reason to return to one of their favorite destinations, so the River District Alliance was formed to attract and organize many different events from monthly Music Walk and Art Walk nights to larger events held annually.
Basically, if it makes for a good party, Downtown Fort Myers River District is the place to be. Revelers can drink green ale at the St. Patrick’s Day Block Party, celebrate America’s independence on the 4th of July, ring in the new year on New Year’s Eve and many more.
Other events that draw big crowds downtown include the Fort Myers Boat Show every November, the Downtown Blues & Barbecue Festival, dozens of outdoor concerts, car shows, motorcycle Bike Nights and many more. The brick-paved streets of the River District are the place to be for special events and outdoor celebrations of all kinds.
One of the key indicators of the need for commercial development is the number of residential “rooftops” in a specific area. It may be a difficult task to pinpoint exactly which happened first, but the development of condominium communities in the River District has seen explosive growth over the last 15 years.
Many felt the area would never see any new residential opportunity other than older rental apartment buildings that had been around for decades. Slowly but surely, developers began to see the potential for upscale condo towers along or near the Caloosahatchee River, and the building boom began. Within the last 15 years, dozens of luxurious, high-rise towers have sprouted from the River District’s landscape, creating more demand than ever before for nearby services, goods, and entertainment to support the growth.
Best Ways to Check Out the Downtown Fort Myers Historic River District
If you really want to learn the total history of the area, TrueTours conducts a 90-minute guided walking tour of the River District. This is a great way to learn the real historic significance of the noteworthy and legendary downtown buildings, complete with some added humor and insights to make it fun. The tours operate in the popular Fort Myers winter season from November through Easter. The Lee County Transit Authority also offers free downtown tram rides in the high season in case you want to grab a map and head out on your own.
The Historic Downtown Fort Myers River District has recently added a huge park and amphitheater along the riverfront, continuing the fullfillment of the master plan launched by the CRA.
There is a very bright future here, and those in the know predict continued success for the well-planned and thoughtful invigoration of the heart of Fort Myers.
For more detailed information about experiencing old Fort Myers in a new way and getting the most from visiting the Historic Downtown Fort Myers River District, visit https://www.myriverdistrict.com/ or https://www.visitfortmyers.com/neighborhoods/fort-myers.
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