The City of Fort Myers wants to build a $52 million hotel in the heart of downtown next to the Harborside Event Center.
But, because of one sentence in the century-old deed, the hotel might not get built.
In 1938, John Dean sold the property to the City for $100. It’s been 82 years and the site now sits as an empty parking lot.
There was a groundbreaking ceremony recently, but construction has since stopped. People were peeking into holes in the chainlink fence to see what was going on, but there were no workers working on the site.
Here’s what’s keeping the Luminary Hotel from coming to fruition:
A deed restriction on the property says, “The land shall not ever be sold or leased for business purposes, but shall be used exclusively for park and yacht basin purposes.”
The City doesn’t think the deed is enforceable, but that depends on a few things.
As a precautionary measure, Naples real estate lawyer, Sam J. Saad, says the City must complete a diligent search for an heir to the property .
If an heir thinks the deed was violated, Saad said, the heir could sue and the deed could revert back to the heir.
Saad said there is also a Florida statue that says the deed restriction may not be enforceable but there is an issue because the piece of land is owned by the city, or a public body .
S ince Dean sold the land to the City more than 21 years after the Reverter or Forfeiture Provisions, Limitations; Exceptions statute passed in 1951, the decision on whether or not the City can build the hotel will likely be up to a judge. The statute says that no provision contained in any deed conveying real estate or any interest therein the state, executed on and after July 1, 1951, shall be valid and binding more than 21 years from the date of the deed. However, the statue says that after 21 years, the provision shall become null, void and unenforceable. But, there is an exception for deeds to cities and counties.
“It’s going to be an interesting question to ask the judge,” Saad said. “And it’s going to be probably an open-ended question I haven’t seen before.”
Until the issue goes to court or the City finds an heir, construction on the hotel cannot go forward.