Florida mom grieving after teen son dies at the hands of ‘idiot with a firearm’ at Fort Myers nightclub

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Stephanie White clutched a stack of photos while sitting in a chair in her home. The television was on, loud, and turned to the local news. A story came on about the mass shooting at a nightclub that took her baby's life. "My son," said White, tired and dejected Monday afternoon. She waved a hand at the television. "There's another picture of him." Her son was one of two teenagers killed early Monday at Club Blu, the latest in a string of mass shootings across the nation this summer. With the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub still fresh on her mind, White had advised her 18-year-old on what to do if there was a shooting: "Hit the floor; find a table." But when gunfire erupted in the parking lot of the Fort Myers club, 18-year-old Stef'an Strawder didn't have anywhere to hide. He was killed along with a 14-year-old boy. Seventeen people ranging in age from 12 to 27 were wounded during the swimsuit-themed party for teens. "I told him to look for all the exits if any kind of shooting would go off, to hit the floor, find a table and get out of the way ... because I thought about the people in Orlando. That was a big thing," White told The Associated Press. Because the shooting happened in the parking lot, "he didn't have that chance," she said. Florida is again reeling from a mass shooting at a nightclub, but instead of being committed by an extremist spouting Islamist ideology, this rampage may have started with an argument about a rap performance. Police have not yet released a motive. Monday's shooting was followed by a visit from the governor, makeshift memorials of flowers and prayer vigils. "It's difficult to understand and difficult to wrap your brain around," said Teresa Furlough, an elementary school teacher and the mother of three children, ages 18, 16 and 15, none of whom were at the club. Furlough attended one of three vigils Monday evening. Continue Reading

New lifestyle project coming to downtown Fort Myers

When David Fry bought a vacant lot in downtown Fort Myers in 2012, he wasn’t thinking about a $15.75 million development project – he just wanted to live downtown.“A vacant lot on First Street was unique,” said the former WCI CEO who traded corporate real estate development to follow his building muse under the trade name Dwell Florida: ‘Cool Homes for Cool People.’What evolved was The Place on First: a multi-use building of retail and restaurants, offices and upper story condos topped by a sky deck, that’s being hailed as very cool, indeed.Calling the project “an iconic structure within the historic district,”  city staff urged the CRA Advisory Board to grant the developer a 10-year, 95 percent tax increment rebate to help defray construction costs – which the board did on Wednesday."I've talked to so many developers who are interested in the historic core, but at the last minute choose a site out in the county where the land is cheaper,” Councilman Mike Flanders said.  “When they see this project going up, I think they’ll take another look at downtown Fort Myers."Married with children who will soon leave the nest, Fry considers himself the target market for The Place on First.“I've been fascinated with the idea of being able to live where you can walk to most things,” he said. “ I’ve reached a point in life where big houses aren’t that important. I want to downsize and simplify.”Unlike a majority of Southwest Florida condo developments, residents of the $400,000 to $850,000 downtown units will live there year-round, Fry said.Ordinarily, the growth in tax income generated by redevelopment projects is meant to go toward things the district wants or needs.In this case, the developer requested a rebate of 95 percent of the annual tax increment for Continue Reading

Downtown Social House opens in Fort Myers, the Yabo mystery continues

With a vastly expanded patio, a brand new kitchen, a redesigned bar and a garden strung with Edison bulbs that glow around a leafy gumbo limbo tree, Downtown Social House is ready to go.One of the most charming spaces in downtown Fort Myers has been transformed, and its new owners are hoping patrons will fall in love with it all over again.“We want to be the social gathering spot for downtown,” said Nils Richter, a partner in the new project, which goes by the name SoHo and opens to the public 4 p.m. Wednesday.“We want to be the place you can come after work or after dinner or for dinner. We offer a little something for everyone.”SoHo, which features 70 seats inside, 30 on the covered patio and 70 more in the new garden area, takes over the brick-lined corner unit at 1406 Hendry St. that for 15 years housed Spirits of Bacchus.Richter created the new concept with partners from Kearns Restaurant Group. Chef Jamie DeRosa of nearby Izzy’s Fish & Oyster, which opened just last week as another Kearns partnership, has developed the menu for SoHo, as well.“Izzy’s is designed to be New England, but over here it’s a menu built purely for fun,” DeRosa said.“It’s a menu with no boundaries, inspired by international street foods.”Amanda Lawson manages SoHo’s kitchen.The menu features a variety of snacks and sharable plates ranging from $4 for the oatmeal cream pies and ice cream sandwiches under the “Sweet” section, to $10 for a Cuban frita or a snow-crab roll with yuzu-ponzu sauce.Also:  Izzy's, SoHo help Kearns expand reachSeveral of SoHo's dishes, including the empanadas, are made by local food trucks with which SoHo has partnered. Others are DeRosa’s creations, including the $6 chicken chicharrones, chicken skin that’s pressed flat and fried to a crackling crisp then served with sriracha-infused mayonnaise. “There’s some little things to do,” Continue Reading

Zoes Kitchen opens soon, Aldi almost ready in Fort Myers

Zoes Kitchen, a Mediterranean-inspired fast-casual restaurant chain, plans to open at least three locations in Southwest Florida in the next several months. An Estero location, set to open later this month on U.S. 41 across from Coconut Point, will be Zoes’ first in southern Florida and the chain’s 20th statewide. Other locations are coming to Mercato in North Naples this fall and, next year, to Daniels Marketplace, the Whole Foods-anchored retail center that broke ground a few weeks ago at Daniels Parkway and Six Mile Cypress in south Fort Myers.Zoes’ menu features chicken, salmon, shrimp, steak and veggie kabobs ($8.39 to $11.89). Other entrees ($7.79 to $9.39) include Mediterranean grilled chicken, orzo pasta with chicken and tomato sauce, and chicken, spinach and shrimp roll-ups. All entrees and sandwiches come with a side.Sandwich selections ($7.39 to $8.39) include chicken salad, pimento cheese, turkey and steak stacks, Italian flatbreads and a Gruben — a sandwich with grilled turkey, Swiss cheese, slaw and spicy mustard on rye. Starters and sides include hummus varieties, pita chips, rice pilaf, roasted vegetables and fresh fruit, as well as Greek, tabbouleh and quinoa salads.The menu focuses on grilling, lean proteins, olive oil and fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Zoes also offers gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. The restaurants offer dine-in and catering options as well as takeout orders called in or placed online.Born in the Mediterranean and raised in the South, founder Zoe Cassimus' lifetime of cooking was inspired by family recipes. Founded in 1995 in Birmingham, Alabama, Zoes is now headquartered in Plano, Texas, and has more than 215 locations in 20 states, according to zoeskitchen.com.The Estero location will be in Coconut Trace, a commercially planned development off Lyden Drive, which runs parallel with U.S. 41 across from the Coconut Point regional mall. Zoes will sit next to Chipotle Continue Reading

Fort Myers-born Ford’s Garage set to boom nationwide

Five years after making its debut, Ford’s Garage is going national.The Fort Myers born burger-and-craft-beer chain, which has three Lee County locations and a store in Brandon, is adding a half-dozen or so more restaurants this year. In the next five years, the company plans to open at least 50 stores throughout Florida and in Michigan, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Charlotte, North Carolina, areas it is targeting for their racing and automotive ties.“That’s to start with,” said Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, the Tampa-based company that now manages operations for the booming brand.“Another partner is looking to develop the Texas and California markets. I’m focusing on growing the South.”Brown, who ran restaurants for Ruby Tuesday and Houlihan’s before helping to open the original Ford’s Garage in 2012, has been tasked with overseeing the next phase of its growth.He moved operations to Tampa — the birthplace of several big-name restaurant chains — to tap into that area’s wealth of hospitality knowledge.Founder Mike McGuigan remains involved, establishing markets in the Midwest and North Carolina. Founder Daniel Kearns also remains an owner in the company, with his focus, according to Brown, now on Ford’s Garage’s sister restaurants — The Firestone, Capone’s, Los Cabos Cantina, The Lodge — in Fort Myers.“We’ve hired people who are industry leaders with Outback and Olive Garden,” Brown said of 23 Restaurant Service’s executive team.“A big emphasis for us was bringing in some highly qualified management with a lot of experience in high-speed growth and with that national mentality that will get us to where we want to be.”Ford’s Garage’s first non-Florida restaurant is slated to open this spring in Dearborn, Michigan, the birthplace of namesake Henry Ford. The Dearborn location will Continue Reading

As Hurricane Irma approaches, Fort Myers and Cape Coral continue to prepare for the worst

As Hurricane Irma continued its trek westward on Wednesday, still targeting the Sunshine State, Southwest Floridians remained on high alert and hoping for the best.Even with an improving forecast by the National Hurricane Center throughout the day, pretty much everywhere you looked — from gas stations in Cape Coral to grocery stores in Fort Myers — there remained an air of concern.Some residents were preparing to hunker down and stay put.Others were packing up and heading out of town."Back home to the beautiful commonwealth of Kentucky," said one person who commented on The News-Press Facebook page."Stay put ... you never know where the storm might head ... just prepare to ride it out ... be safe," said another person on the thread.People seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma in Florida hotels are seeing fewer choices with every day.Even Central Florida with its big hotels was filling up fast."Reservations were streaming in (Tuesday). One of our large hotels got 400 (evacuee) reservations in one hour," said D.T. Minich, chief executive for Experience Kissimmee.Increasingly, evacuees are turning to neighboring states, including Georgia.With meteorologists still uncertain of the storm's eventual path heading into Wednesday night there continued to be a "better to be safe than sorry" attitude. The storm battered Caribbean islands most of the day Wednesday, reaching Puerto Rico by mid-afternoon.Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach declared a state of emergency on Wednesday morning, stopping short of asking residents to evacuate. Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Lee County earlier in the week also declared a state of emergency.“There’s no requirement to leave,” Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane said at an emergency city council meeting.The Fort Myers Beach Town Council said it will follow the guidance of Lee County’s Emergency Operations Center.No decision was made at the meeting on whether to close Matanzas Pass Bridge, Continue Reading

Fort Myers-area community off Island Park Road races Hurricane Irma to collect debris

For complete coverage of Hurricane Irma go to news-press.com/hurricane. There's a furious race against time in one south Lee County community where potential wind-driven missiles left over from a recent flood lay strewn along the development's roads.Royal Woods, hit hard by the brackish waters that coursed through apartments and homes in late August, is trying to get rid of mountains of destroyed belongings that residents have piled up by their residences."We're hoping we get it out by tomorrow," Tony Farina, head of the community's board, said Thursday. "So this stuff doesn't become missiles." More: Hurricane Irma 8 p.m. update: Storm maintains strength, heading west-northwest with winds at 175 mph The stuff Farina is talking about is the remains of furniture, electronics, clothing and mementos that residents piled up after the flood.Crews from Advanced Disposal, the trash collection company that collects in Royal Woods, and Honc Destruction, have been in the community trying to get the piles, some five to 10-feet-high, cleaned up.Farina said that a lot of the mess was cleaned up only to have some residents return and add more to the debris.Logan Vallee, a Honc employee, said his crews were trying to get as much done as possible."Yes, sir, before Irma gets through and any more high water," he said.A Honc backhoe with claw attached was grabbing gobs of cast-off belongings, chairs, beds, televisions and clothing, and tossing the items into a huge, metal container.Tom Lamotte, a Royal Woods resident, said he was glad to see the cleanup but had reservations about their chances at getting done before Irma. The storm, still predicted to hit the east coast of Florida, would start bringing wind and rain sometime late Saturday. "I'm hoping they do," he said. "They just have so much."Lamotte, who said he and his wife lost everything to the flood, will be riding out the storm in Cape Coral.He pointed to commercial storage containers dotting the Continue Reading

Hurricane Irma: Store closures abound in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples

Closed or open?As of 3 p.m. Friday, perhaps the biggest news is that The Home Depot stores south of Venice had closed, while some Lowe's stores had also closed or were in the process of closing.A general rule is to expect many businesses to be closed over the weekend, with the expectation of opening Monday as the situation allows.Here is a sampling. Note that some of the major chains may have links that will be periodically updated as plans are made for closures. Home improvement stores and others:The Lowe's at Colonial Boulevard and Six Mile Cypress Parkway in south Fort Myers is closed.The Lowe's at U.S. 41 and Gladiolus Drive in south Fort Myers was expected to close at 3 p.m.The Home Depot is closing stores south of Venice on the state's west coast.Click link for latest updates.Matt Harrigan, spokesman for The Home Depot, said at 2:45 p.m. Friday:“We keep our stores open as long as possible, but the safety of our associates and customers is paramount. We’re closing stores south of Venice at noon and south of Jupiter on the east coast. Even then it takes several hours for the remaining customers to complete purchases and secure the stores. We’re accounting for the time for customers to finish getting supplies. That’s one of the reasons we’ve decided to close. To properly secure the store is a process as well.”The Target on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral closed at 2 p.m. Friday. Publix“We will begin closing stores in the area as follows: All Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Desoto County stores will close tonight (Friday) at 8 p.m. planning to reopen Monday – if weather permits. All Highland County stores will close at 12 p.m. on Saturday planning to reopen Tuesday – if weather permits. All Polk, Lake, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando County stores will close tomorrow night (Saturday) at 8 p.m. planning to reopen Tuesday – if weather permits. There are some Continue Reading

Irma update: Supplies in demand in Fort Myers as stores reopen

Tuesday seemed to be the day for people to make a run on supplies as stores reopened in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Here’s a look at what workforce reporter Casey Logan and others observed Tuesday:All Publix stores in Lee and Collier counties were expected to open by 8 a.m. today, but a couple of Publix stores (the one at State Road 82 and Lee Boulevard, on the edge of Lehigh Acres and the Midpoint Publix in Cape Coral), had not opened by 9 a.m.More than 100 people stood in a line outside the Lee Boulevard store, many of them expressing frustration. (The store did reopen later).At that Publix, few perishable items were available Tuesday afternoon.The store had no offerings in the deli, fresh meat, prepared foods, or dairy aisles and the frozen food cases were empty. Some non-packaged produce was available. There was no commercial bread available.Workers were cleaning the shelving used to store perishable goods. It was busy, but orderly as people came in to get fresh supplies and groceries Tuesday morning at the Publix store on Ben C. Pratt/Six Mile Cypress Parkway, near Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers.Checkout lines were not terribly long. The water shelves were empty and the deli line was long.A line of cars stretched along Colonial Boulevard near I-75 as motorists waited to fuel up at a Shell station. A man who had made his way to a pump said he waited in the line for 30 minutes.The scene was similar at other gas stations around the area, although many gas stations were not open. Gas informationTom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service, offered his take late Tuesday afternoon on the state of gas.“In the parlance of fuel distributors, most Florida terminals are now ‘wet,’” he wrote. “But manic and panic behavior from the public is still being witnessed across the state, with long lines at many of the 7,200 stations, with caravans of cars even following transport trucks as Continue Reading

Fall openings: New restaurants spring up in Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral

In the topsy-turvy world that is the local dining scene, a reversal of seasons only makes sense. Spring is when restaurants close, when those that didn't capture the bounty of our tourist-heavy winter months wither away and lock their doors. Fall is the time of hope and rebirth, as new restaurants burst through trying to snag their piece of the high-season pie.And this fall is certainly bursting. "It's as good a time as any," said Greg Gebhard, co-owner of Nice Guys Pizza in south Cape Coral and a partner in nearby Danger, Danger which plans to open by December. "We've still been slammed (at Nice Guys), so the goal here is to make sure everything's bangin' and just right before opening."Fall in Southwest Florida is a sweet spot for restaurant newcomers — slow enough for new servers and cooks to learn, but busy enough to keep them paid. More:Dining and restaurants Also:  Stone crab season off to solid start in Southwest FloridaAccording to 2015 data compiled for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, October to December were the rebound months where visitor spending jumped from a mere $490 million over the summer to a healthier $664 million. In January to March of that year, visitors spent $1.12 billion. Hurricane Irma has, of course, put her twist on things, forcing delays for many by stretching contractors and construction crews thin. "It pushed us back a few weeks, for sure," Sal Basile, owner of the forthcoming Saucy Meatball in Gateway said, "but we're getting there. It's coming together."More than 35 new restaurants plan to open throughout Lee and northern Collier counties between now and the end of the year, with even more having opened since September.More: Sails Restaurant to launch at Fifth and Third in Naples More:  Kitchen opens in downtown Naples Here's a look at who's who:Fall's restaurant bountyNorth NaplesCasamigos: Continue Reading