South Lee County may arguably be the new place to be in Southwest Florida as new shops, restaurants and apartments continue to shape the area near Florida Gulf Coast University, all while developers cash in big on the population boom.
Bustling with growth, new faces and overall more to do, Ben Hill Griffin at Estero Parkway just north of Corkscrew Road is getting more than just a facelift; rather, it is transforming daily as construction workers craft a new, 100-acre residential and commercial community called University Village by Miromar Development Corporation.
The real estate development company has served as a staple of south Lee County growth, known for creating Miromar Outlets, Miromar Design Center and Miromar Lakes, and long envisioned the attraction their new community is expected to generate, which is finally coming to fruition.
“New apartments, restaurants, everything,” said Danielle Still, a former FGCU student who happened to be passing through Estero again on her way to home in Jacksonville. “It is pretty drastic how much it’s changed. There’s a ton of diversity and a ton of people going out to the bars. A lot more packed than they ever were.”
The growing change will likely continue as the Village of Estero and Lee County receive more interest from property owners and developers seeking a zoning change to cater to what has become increasingly popular: mixed-use space. As more families move to Southwest Florida, land use on many properties currently flagged as commercial will likely be adjusted to allow for new homes in the future.
University Village is a successful example of that. The developer had to fight pushback from neighbors who sought to slow the growth and limit traffic. Ultimately they won, and while many look forward to having another place to go to socialize, the worry from some residents remains.
“It’s too much,” Chris Natters of Estero said. “They should do the infrastructure work before they approve the development,” referring to Estero’s smaller roads and tight congestion, which has been deemed an issue by both the village and Florida Department of Transportation.
“You have to be susceptible for change,” said Phillip Munrow, a fitness club employee at nearby Gulf Coast Town Center. “It’s only going to bring good change to the area.”
Change, like the first-ever private housing for the rising population of FGCU students, is expected to increase to 22,000 in the near future. Brand new restaurants, bars and a fitness boutique have already signed leases in University Village with some opening dates set for as soon as this upcoming fall.
Students will be able to walk to class from student apartments, shop, eat out and exercise in the community while essentially remaining on campus.
New restaurants include pizza chain Mellow Mushroom, Collier County-based Tacos & Tequila Cantina, Skillets, Thai Udon and Smoothie King.
Some late night bars are working to secure leases, as well as health and beauty shops. Naples-based yoga studio and boutique Yoga Lab, formerly Yoga Loft, will also move in.