Marty Lawing said during almost seven years as the Guilford County manager in North Carolina, he saw both successes and failures. Entering his second full year as the city manager of Fort Myers, he’s hoping to learn from the missteps as he looks to improve the quality of life in the City of Palms.
“A healthy downtown is the key to a strong community,” Lawing said. “It provides the sense of place for residents and visitors to gather.”
Lawing gave a rundown of some of the immediate tasks he tackled upon taking the job, including converting one-way streets, such as First and Second streets, into two-way traffic flow. In addition, he hopes to establish regularly occurring public events and make public land available for private development.
While the new playground at Centennial Park downtown is nearing completion, Lawing will seek to improve public parking, create a downtown entertainment district and establish a ride-sharing program which could include public bike rental kiosks.
“We’ve got some high-quality tenants. We have a really good mix of businesses, restaurants and retail. People come from other places to visit downtown Fort Myers,” Lawing said.
The city has become safer with the installation of surveillance cameras, he said. “It’s a pretty sophisticated system,” he said. “It’s helped us solve quite a few cases. It was a significant investment to the city’s benefit. It was smart.”
Besides City of Palms Park, there were two other large, city-owned properties that, for now, have uncertain futures. One of them is city hall itself. “We’re running out of space at city hall,” Lawing said. Options to turn that over to the private sector and develop a new city hall are conversations that have been happening.
And then there’s 2442 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the former News-Press building, which the city owns. The city received an unsolicited offer earlier this year from a developer to acquire the property, which is about 12 acres.
“I want to talk about the cool factor,” Lawing said, in closing. “I think it’s cool to be downtown. It’s clean. It’s safe. There’s a lot of good restaurants. There’s a lot of good activities – for the young, the old, the in between.”