By Gary Tasman

The scaffolding has been removed from the new air traffic control tower at Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), serving as a visual reminder of the rapid growth and transformation of our region. The travel and tourism industry has long been Southwest Florida’s major economic driver. While travel trends are still slow in other parts of the country, travel to our area has never been more popular—and its impact on our commercial property market is substantial.

According to the Lee County Port Authority, more than 814,000 passengers traveled through RSW in July—an increase of 42% over July 2019 and a jump of 218% over last year. To accommodate our region’s popularity as a travel destination, the airport itself is expanding. In addition to the new control tower, plans are underway for a four-story terminal building expansion and other support structures. And just this week, RSW hosted a job fair for more than 200 positions at multiple companies located within the airport.

Modifications to the airport itself are only a small part of the changing landscape around RSW, however. Construction crews have become a common site in the airport vicinity over recent years, in particular along Three Oaks Parkway near Alico Road. Commuters on I-75 have watched a series of new buildings rise on the horizon just west of the interstate, including the new NeoGenomics world headquarters, Scottlynn USA’s North American headquarters, and a new corporate office and surgery center for Frantz EyeCare.

The Alico Road corridor between I-75 and US-41 has a staggering number of commercial building projects currently in planning, permitting, and construction. Many of these are large commercial developments like Three Oaks Marketplace, a 400,000 square foot commercial/industrial mixed use planned development on Alico Road. An assortment of other industrial and commercial parks and distribution and logistics centers are planned for this area, including a planned 278,000 square foot Amazon last-mile distribution center with 78 loading docks.

Along Daniels Parkway and the north side of Southwest Florida International Airport is the new Skyplex, a 1,150 acre development area that is becoming home to office buildings, industrial warehouses, corporate headquarters, retail, restaurants, and aviation-related industries. With close proximity to workers from Fort Myers, Gateway and Lehigh Acres, it’s no surprise that large local employers like Gartner Inc. and Alta Resources have pounced on Skyplex as a location for their new facilities.

Other parcels near the airport display a diverse array of future purposes. A Porsche dealership has joined its neighbors Audi of Fort Myers and Rockstar Harley Davidson near I-75 and Daniels Parkway. Best Home Services plans a 62,000 square foot headquarters off of Three Oaks Parkway. South of the Airport, the proposed Florida Gulf Coast Technology and Research Park will boast nearly 5 million square feet of retail, commercial, and industrial space. More planned residential units are coming as well, including Esplanade Lake Club and Wildblue off Alico Road as well as Timber Creek near Daniels Parkway.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the development near RSW is the relative dearth of hotel properties near the airport. Most major airports are surrounded by hotels, perfect for weary business travelers. With large businesses now setting up camp near RSW, our region will need more inland hotels with proximity to the airport and major employers. We’ve already begun to see a small shift in this direction.

This summer, Home2 Suites by Hilton opened a 123-suite hotel near Terminal Access Road and Ben Hill Griffin Parkway. Further to the south, the Florida Gulf Coast Technology and Research Park proposes to develop up to 240 hotel/motel units, and on the other side of the interstate, the Avid Hotel plans to provide130 rooms at the Three Oaks Marketplace.

On the heels of all this development, we should anticipate a future hotel and conference center near the airport, which would cement Southwest Florida’s transformation from tourist destination to commercial hub. Currently, the region’s convention business is limited to beachside resorts and downtown conference centers. With plentiful retail and restaurants at nearby Gulf Coast Town Center and Miromar Outlets, a full-size conference hotel near the airport is a likely prospect for the future.

Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida (CPSWFL) has the knowledge, data, and resources to stay abreast of current commercial real estate trends in our region. Whether it’s time for you to sell, buy, or you’re just considering your options in our current market, the commercial property experts at CPSWFL are able to assist you with determining your best strategy for the future. Contact us by calling 239-489-3600 or reach us by using the form below.

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