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"We followed the rules": Owners of the Richards Building say they did nothing wrong, despite orders from city

Posted at 6:24 PM, May 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-03 18:24:25-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — In recent weeks, the historic Richards Building in Fort Myers has become the center of attention due to unauthorized painting of its facade. The city issued a stop-work order on April 19th, only to find that the painting continued throughout the weekend, defying official directives.

The building's color transformation did not receive the required approval from the Historic Preservation Committee, as mandated by Fort Myers City Code. The regulations state that painting of the historic brick facade requires consent, which the building's owners did not receive.

Before and After the Richard's building paintjob

In response to inquiries regarding the unauthorized work, Michael Alessio, the owner, along with his attorney Sawyer Smith of Wilbur Smith Law, held a press conference on Friday morning. Smith defended the actions, stating, "Mr. Alessio and his team believe that the decisions made when using the mineral stain on the facade followed the necessary rules. This belief is marrow deep."

The city's notices referred to the changes as "painting" rather than "staining," which was how Smith referred to the changes throughout the conference.. When asked for clarification on the decision to continue work despite the stop-work order, Smith declined to comment, citing ongoing legal proceedings.

Questions also arose regarding previous unpermitted remodeling work, which had incurred violations from the city in January. Smith deflected these inquiries, emphasizing the investment being made by the Alessio family in preserving the building's historical significance. He disclosed that the family's contributions would total over two million dollars, including the removal of the Richards Building sign, replaced by a Pythian Building sign, a move, Smith says, that was aimed at honoring earlier history.

Whitney Richards-Kearns, a descendant of the Richards family who the building was named after, expressed her disappointment over the alterations. "I didn't have words, it was like a slap in the face to my family's legacy to see that it had been changed and to see the difference. That beautiful red brick has been a hallmark of this building for a hundred years."

Members of the community, supportive of restoring the building to its former historic color, say their questions remain unanswered. Nancy Kilmarten, a Fort Myers resident, commented, "Kinda disappointed how everything was deflected, but that's the way it went down."

Smith announced his intention to recuse himself from the issue at the upcoming Historic Preservation Commission meeting, citing a conflict of interest.