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Bonita & Estero Magazine

Booming Bonita: Surge of Rentals Where Condos Used to Be King

Photo courtesy of Miromar Development.

As the last of the ugly, depressing piles of Hurricane Irma debris were lifted from the Bonita Springs and Estero landscape, the light of something new replaced the darkness: Development that was put on hold since September is coming out of the ground at a remarkable pace.

In Bonita alone, there is a new RaceTrac service center built and a dental office, hotel and stand-alone car wash planned on Bonita Beach Road, and an affordable single-family home project is rising on Terry Street. A Florida Power & Light Co. substation and Causeway Commerce Park are coming to Old 41 Road north and south, respectively, and a self-storage project is taking shape west of Bonita Grande. A developer is testing the waters for a commercial/residential project at Old 41 and Terry.

But the even bigger headline is about large apartment projects. A shortage of complexes of quality rentals in Bonita is being filled by three developments, all city-approved and arriving simultaneously. Mosaic at Oak Creek will have 273 units fronting Old 41 Road and Dean Street, across the street from Bonita Elementary School. Hidden Lakes will have 240 units south of Springs Plaza and east of U.S. Highway 41. The aptly named Bonita Exchange, at the southwest corner of Bonita Beach Road and Interstate 75, will have 264 units.

The trio will make Bonita a factor in the region’s rental market, which is experiencing a surge to the south in Collier County as well as to the north in Estero, where Community Development Director Mary Gibbs reports several projects completed or under way. Longitude 81 on Ben Hill Griffin Parkway, across from Grandezza, was approved for 203 apartment units and has been completed, she says. Gibbs notes Phase 1 went up a few years ago next door with 260 units. Meanwhile, The Reef student housing second phase of 60 units is finishing construction at Estero and Three Oaks parkways.

“Coconut Point was recently approved by the Estero Town Council for a zoning amendment to add 180 apartment units at the southeast corner of Williams Road and Via Coconut Point by the roundabout,’’ Gibbs adds. “They have not started construction yet.’’

She says Stock Development is proposing about 350 apartment units on the south side of Corkscrew Road, just east of the Lowe’s plaza and west of Corkscrew Woodlands. The Residences at University Village, by Miromar Development Corp. just beyond the Estero Village boundary, will be home to nearly 600 tenants starting in the fall.

Yet, for now, the attention is on the three apartment complexes coming to an area that once had so few. And Mosaic at Oak Creek has the potential of jumpstarting and setting a tone for all of Bonita’s downtown redevelopment, which has languished since a major condo mixed-use project, Imperial Landing, was canceled on the eve of the recession.


Mosaic Development, with offices in Fort Myers and St. Petersburg, is immersed in the rental industry in Lee County and Central Florida. Mosaic proposes a gated, Old Florida-look community of three-story buildings. Part of the deal with the city of Bonita calls for Mosaic to safeguard Oak Creek and its creekbank while also developing public access via a canoe and kayak launch.

The project’s 12,000 square feet of commercial space will face Old 41, across from the iconic Shangri-La resort. Of special interest is a landmark occupying part of that site—the long-dormant Dixie Moon café/diner. The plan is for it to have a “gentle yet permanent” move to downtown’s activity center at Riverside Park. The initial proposal is for the Dixie Moon to get public restrooms (funded by Mosaic) and serve as a museum and information center, city officials say.

Marc Mariano of Mosaic explains that the project will target renters of all ages looking for a “hands-free” lifestyle who see the “benefit of trading the hassle/cost of maintaining a house for the convenience of renting an apartment home in an amenity-rich community. It offers the ease of enjoying outdoor entertainment and recreation, local cultural offerings and shopping and, if still in the workplace, access to employment, which is precisely what we are delivering.
“Our monthly rents are still being set,’’ Mariano adds, “but they are in line with the existing, older apartment stock in the Bonita Springs market, except ours will be a brand-new product.’’

Bonita Mayor Peter Simmons says he likes the Mosaic at Oak Creek project for its own and future impacts: “Yes indeed, we are excited about this project. We look forward to it and others as our downtown continues to grow and be a place for our residents and visitors to enjoy.’’ Bonita Development Director Jacqueline Gerson adds, “We hope that the Mosaic property will serve as a catalyst for other mixed use and residential infill and redevelopment projects within the downtown area.’’


The location of Hidden Lakes is just north of Sterling Oaks and the Collier County line, west of Spanish Wells, east of U.S. 41 and south of Springs Plaza. “It will comprise 240 apartment homes ranging in size from studio units to three-bedroom units,” says Greg Martin, principal and vice president of development at Indianapolis-based Milhaus.

“The target clientele will be young to middle-30s professionals, empty-nesters and service professionals. The timetable is construction to start in the spring of 2018 and completion of the project by the end of 2019,’’ he notes.

Referring to the three concurrent apartment projects, Martin adds: “I think they all have unique locations within Bonita Springs and may offer characteristics that attract different demographic profiles. Given there have been a limited number of new multi-family developments being completed in Bonita, we feel there is demand to absorb all of these units over the next few years.’’


The project will offer 264 units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space on three outparcels on 26 acres at a key transportation node—the Bonita I-75 interchange, between the region’s top two metro areas of Fort Myers and Naples. Additionally, Trey Massey of The Residential Group, based in Atlanta, is also developing 200 rental units south of Naples.

And as the construction of the large apartment projects commences, residents and visitors alike may find themselves asking, “Why here? Why now?” In response, regional development authorities weigh in on the sudden surge of rentals where condos used to be king.

Veteran real estate appraiser and Collier County market authority Cindy Carroll offers her theory: “As property values in the Naples area increase, buyers will be looking elsewhere for ‘affordable’ housing. That would include rental properties and owner-occupied residences. New homes in the $200,000s would be very attractive and Bonita/Estero is a reasonable alternative to Naples’ higher-priced products.’’

“If we’re to create a ‘walkable downtown’ and have transit that functions efficiently and in a timely manner,” states former Bonita Mayor Ben Nelson, “we need a certain amount of clustered density. It can be a really good thing and can actually keep us out of our cars.

“I think with the right management and maintenance, it should be good for downtown and create some synergy for more commercial there,” Nelson continues. “But the council must create some road connectivity in the downtown area—Matheson to Bonita Beach Road, Goodwin to Imperial Parkway, etc.—or Old 41/Bonita Beach Road and Terry Street will be in trouble.”

Mark Strain, a longtime Collier County planning and zoning official, says, “After the recession, mortgages may be harder to qualify for.  Rental may be the best option until a credit rating is established. And after this past hurricane, it might be better to rent someone else’s property rather than have your own at risk.

“Rentals do come with a lot of options to downsize and thus reduce overall expenses,” Strain adds. “With costs today, this may not be a bad option for some.’’

 “The timing of the three apartment projects signals that the demand for rental property, as well as owned units, is high in Bonita,” explains Bonita City Manager Carl Schwing. “This is not localized only to Bonita, but seems to be a trend countywide.”

Summing up, the city manager states, “There are always residential clients who need to rent instead of buy. The reasons vary by customer. The city is a very desirable place—one that has small-town charm with a big, bright future! It is well located between Fort Myers and Naples and has quick access to Old 41, downtown, I-75 and U.S. 41.’’

Written by Jeff Lytle, the retired editorial page editor and TV host for Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.