For downtown Fort Myers, the term “T.G.I.F.” has taken on a whole new meaning thanks to Friday’s fun-tastic walks. As you enjoy an evening walking the streets of downtown Fort Myers today, there’s an energy in the air that’s almost palpable. Restaurants are buzzing, watering holes are hopping, shops are cha-chinging and people from all walks — young or old, couples or large groups — are loving it.
It may be hard to believe, but less than 10 years ago, downtown Fort Myers was almost a ghost town after hours. The amazing renaissance has been led by the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency and Don Paight, Executive Director, points to three decisions that mark today’s success: the downtown street scape project; partnership with the River District Alliance; and the creation of a calendar-year full of special events, most notably Art Walk and Music Walk— each held on a specific Friday night of the month.
“Collectively, the estimated attendance for the 50 events the River District Alliance markets is 175,000,” he notes. “The Walks have been a huge success, generating crowds and revenue on a year-round basis. Since we began, we’ve had over 65 new businesses move into downtown — retailers, restaurants, entertainment. What’s also unique is that with the exception of three chains, all of our downtown businesses are locally owned and often owner operated. People love it, and keep coming back, and that generates more growth.”
So mark your calendar, ‘cause there’s a Friday night headed your way soon.
ART WALK | FIRST FRIDAY OF EVERY MONTH
Now in its eighth season, Art Walk was the first walk created by the River District Alliance. Claudia Goode, Curator for Arts for ACT and RDA member, believes it was the “catalyst that launched the rebirth of downtown.” Art Walk consists of 13 studios to visit by foot or free trolley (6 PM – 10 PM) and attracts an estimated 3,000 fans each month. Goode explains that what makes this Walk so popular is that “you have the unique opportunity to meet the actual artists whose work hangs on the walls. It’s the only time really you can talk with them in one night.”
She’s right; the galleries are packed and abuzz with conversations on vision, process and method, with artists eager to discuss their featured works on display.
As you walk the streets and tour gallery after gallery, you’ll also encounter artists creating new pieces before your eyes, performance artists, plus original art for sale along the sidewalks. With all this walking, be sure to visit Patio De Leon, a charming, brick-lined historic walkway replete with your choice of food, drink, music, shopping — plus ready places to sit and take five, should your dogs be barking.
MUSIC WALK | THIRD FRIDAY OF EVERY MONTH
Following the success of Art Walk, Music Walk was established in 2010 and has proven to be another huge hit for the River District Alliance. Patsy French, Chairman of the Committee for Music Walk, explains that the third Friday of every month is filled with the sounds of “almost 40 musicians, and my goal is more — more musicians, more genres, and more younger children involved, too. I want music everywhere!”
The fact is, there’s already a lot of music to enjoy — amped electric guitarists, a tight band covering classic rock and doing it well, two young girls on violin, a 50s-era rockabilly band, a dude with an accordion plus a lot more. Note to fans: with a couple exceptions, Patsy French moves the musicians’ locations each month “so you have to walk the Walk to find them.”
As for the more music part, French encourages all who want to participate to apply online. There’s no audition and no fee; you play for passion and tips. “The more that River District Alliance stays active, the more downtown will grow, develop and prosper. I think we’re well on our way to becoming a true destination.”
Story By John Sprecher & Emily Pryzbylo | Photography by Milissa Sprecher & Emily Pryzbylo