The River District Comes Alive: Fort Myers

10 years after the completion of a $52 million downtown utility and streetscape improvement project, the visual results of clustering complementing development within a compact setting are beginning to pay dividends. Also known as the River District, Downtown Fort Myers has emerged as a dining, entertainment and nightlife hot spot.

First Street

First Street is the premier historic commercial thoroughfare through the River District.

On First Street, looking north down Bayview Court in November 2007 (Google Streetview)

On First Street, looking north down Bayview Court in August 2019

Looking west down First Street in November 2007 (Google Streetview)

Similar view looking west down First Street in August 2019.

First Street storefronts in November 2007 (Google Streetview)

Similar view of First Street environment at night in August 2019.

Looking east down First Street in November 2007 (Google Streetview)

Similar view looking east down First Street in August 2019.

Arcade Theatre

Originally built as a vaudeville house in 1915, the Arcade Theatre had fallen into despair by the late 1980s. During the 1990s, the First Street attraction was restored and is now host to the Florida Repertory Theatre.

The Edison Regency House

The Edison Regency House is home to the Roetzel Andress Law Firm and Franklin Arm Apartments. During the early 20th century, it was known as one of the city’s leading hosteleries. The seven-story addition in 1924 is recognized as the city’s first “skyscraper”.

Fort Myers Regional Library

The location of the Fort Myers Regional Library on First Street in 2011 (Google Streetview)

Completed in January 2014, the Fort Myers Regional Library anchors the east end of the River District’s First Street corridor. The library campus comprises two buildings, public plazas and multipurpose spaces, which provides a venue for library sponsored and other downtown events.

The Fort Myers Regional Library in August 2019.

The Fort Myers Regional Library from a different viewpoint in August 2019.

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center

The former Whitehurst Federal Building in 2008 (Google Streetview)

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is housed in the Whitehurst Federal Building. The structure was originally a United States Post Office constructed in 1933. After acquiring a 99-year lease from the City of Fort Myers, Jim Griffith and Florida Arts, Incorporated restored the building and opened the arts center on September 10, 2009.

The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in August 2019.

The Caloosahatchee River.

Luminary Hotel & Company

Luminary Hotel site in February 2008 (Google Streetview)

A major component of the 2010 Downtown Plan, the $92 million, 12-story Luminary Hotel & Company is expected to open on the Calooshatchee riverfront in August 2020. Featuring a rooftop bar, two restaurants, retail and meeting space, the Marriott Autograph Collection hotel will be directly connected to the city’s 30,000 square foot Harborside Event Center. It is believed the marketplace can support 1,000 hotel rooms. Currently, five hotels are planned for the downtown core.

The Luminary Hotel & Company tower site from a similar view in August 2019.

Harborside Event Center

The Harborside Event Center in January 2013 (Google Streetview)

Completed in 1991, the Harborside Event Center serves as the downtown area’s premier conference and convention facility. In preparation for the opening of the attached Luminary & Company hotel, the City of Fort Myers is spending $22.8 million on renovations to the Harborside Event Center.

The renovation of Harborside Event Center in August 2019.

The one-screen Edison Theatre opened in 1941 and was operated by a subsidiary of Paramount Theatres. Today, the building is used as offices.

Patio De Leon

Entrance to Patio De Leon alley in February 2008 (Google Streetview)

A collection of alleys inside of a block bounded by First, Broadway, Hendry and Main Streets, Patio De Leon is a brick-paved outdoor performance venue surrounded by seven food and beverage establishments in the heart of the River District.

Entrance to Patio De Leon alley in August 2019.

Designed by Francis J. Kennard, the Old Lee County Courthouse was constructed in 1915. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1989.

Completed in 1998, the six story Fort Myers Division U.S. Courthouse & Federal Building is the result of a public engagement process that saved the nearby historic Collier Arcade. Original plans for the block included the demolition of historic structures to create space for a courthouse surface parking lot.

The Collier Arcade in January 2013 (Google Streetview)

Also known as the Post Office Arcade, the Collier Arcade was the first building in the city specifically constructed to house the post office. Since its partial preservation as a part of the modification of the original U.S. Courthouse & Federal Building design, the arcade has been renovated to serve as an entrance to an infill boutique hotel and is now home to several retailers and restaurants.

The Collier Arcade in August 2019.

Hotel Indigo under construction in March 2008 (Google Streetview)

Anchoring the restored Collier Arcade, Hotel Indigo opened its doors on March 11, 2009. Featuring 67 rooms, a rooftop pool and fitness center, cocktail lounge, spa and three on-site restaurants and a Starbucks Coffee, the seven-story hotel was the first new construction hotel within the downtown historic district in 20 years.

Hotel Indigo from a different perspective in August 2019.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at