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The island's newest HOTIs
June 13, 2018

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One could say they're the HOTIest new group on the island.

That is, the Heart of the Island organization is really passionate about nuturing and improving the island's core.

The area encompassing Bay Oaks, Matanzas Pass Preserve, the Library and the surrounding businesses is referred to in the Fort Myers Beach Comprehensive Plan as "the heart of the island." There's a whole, big-picture goal in the plan that envisions the area revitalized and renewed to bring visitors and residents alike to feel the pulse of the island.

And that's what the members of HOTI are hoping to get started.

The group began meeting earlier this year to begin brainstorming about how heart of the island stakeholders and island residents could help make the area a second destination spot on the island.

"This council especially wants to do what the constituents want, and it's up to us to let them know what we want," said Beverly Milligan, co-owner of Myerside.

The group has fluctuating attendance, but growing interest. It met Wednesday at Tuckaway Bagel Cafe with a few of its members.

"It's important to have people down here with ideas, instead of those without a stake in (the heart of the island)," said Amy Gillette, co-owner of Tuckaway.

Tuckaway is a little outside of the main heart area, but the Gillettes are willing to work with the group to make it part of the entrance to the special area. They're planning a mural for the side of their building.

The group has started with several key ideas, which Milligan told to council at the June 4 meeting.

First, they're working on developing a brochure. The brochure, which could be handed out at the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce or the Times Square Visitors Information Booth, would include a map and highlight the heart of the island, enticing tourists to take a stroll down the new, wide sidewalk to a different part of town. It's only a mile walk from Times Square to the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, or people can hop on the free Lee County tram during season.

Even though the heart is the focus of the brochure, other businesses or locations could be tagged in the information to even further encourage the walk, Milligan said.

"There's a relationship with Times Square now with the 9-foot sidewalk," Milligan said.

Another goal is to add more public art to the heart area. Murals, sculptures, things of interest to draw the eye. By having those public art spaces, Fort Myers Beach can also be put on several Florida maps, like the Florida Tour of Sculptures.

In partnership with the brochure map would be a "VIP Day Pass" that someone could buy; the pass might include discounts at participating businesses, entry to the Bay Oaks pool, and other incentives.

Jan Fleming attended the meeting as a representative for the library. She has been working with the library to establish a new island event, "Christmas in July," which would take place in the heart of the island. Fleming said the library staff has really taken off with the idea, and hopes Bay Oaks and the Historical Society could get involved, too.

"A lot of people don't know what's in the heart of the island, tourists and residents alike," Fleming said. "I'm amazed at how many residents have never been in the library or Bay Oaks, two gems."

She hopes that a movement like HOTI can bring recognition to the variety of offerings this area of the island has.

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