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Fort Myers allowing boats in Centennial Park, months after evicting homeless

Posted at 8:42 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 20:42:22-05

FORT MYERS — There are now several boats parked in Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers, even though it’s currently under construction.

They’re located right near a pavilion where just two months ago, a group of homeless individuals were told to leave because it wasn’t safe.

The entire waterfront is filled with boats right now. That's why show manager John Good said they asked the city to use part of the park.

“We totally understood their concerns about using the park. So we are using the parking lot under the 41 bridge, but we’re not in any of the west part of the park," said Good.

But the park still has signs up saying it’s a felony if you go in there. It’s been designated as an active construction site by the city, which is why dozens of homeless individuals were told to leave back in September. Our cameras were rolling on that emotional day.

“We’re getting chased out of these parks. We can’t sleep nowhere. Where can we sleep?” said one woman who was told to leave the park at the time.

A woman who reached out to us about the issue, Paige Rausch, said it seems like a double standard.

“It just puzzles me how, in one instance that it can be unsafe for one select group of people, but in this instance then it’s not unsafe any longer," said Rausch.

We reached out to the city, and it responded with a statement saying "A delay in the park renovation permitting resulted in a window of time where the east side of the park could be utilized for permitted special events."

Good said he also thinks the decision came down to the impact that the boat show has on the Fort Myers community.

“The City Manager, the Mayor, the City Council, everybody was very very supportive, because they understand, I mean, this is, we’re talking about, you know the estimates are a show like this, in a really good year, has a 60 to 70 million dollar impact on the marine industry," said Good.

Rausch said, she understands the financial impact, but that doesn’t mean a construction site is suddenly a safe place for boat enthusiasts.

“What has changed about the safety plan to now allow us to change and now have a major event here?” said Rausch.

The City said it requires any event to have liability insurance before the City will issue a permit, so it does not have any concerns about safety right now. The next step for the park will be the demolition of the pavilion, and that will be discussed at the next Historic Preservation Commission meeting on November 19th.