“We like complicated. That helps us stand out.”
Shoppers started lining up to welcome the new Publix at Sky Walk Shopping Center in Fort Myers, Florida, well before its 7 a.m. grand opening. NAP VP Craig Kopko was there too, wielding the oversized scissors alongside Jeff Mulder, Executive Director of the Lee County Port Authority.
The fanfare was warranted: The area this new Publix serves—the Gateway District, a master-planned community with over 3,000 acres of single-family homes but no grocery store—had been banking on someone setting up shop since development began in the 1980s. After decades of bad timing and revolving recessions, then years of negotiating a complicated land lease, the people of Gateway have finally gotten their retail destination—Craig and his family among them.
Craig and his wife, Chantel, moved to the Gateway area from Naples seeking a friendly, family-oriented place to raise their young children (daughter, Cheyenne, 7; and son, Harper, 4). “In Gateway we’re surrounded by families,” Craig explains. “All the kids play together. It’s exactly what we were looking for.” Kopko’s personal stake in the Sky Walk Publix is evident, but it was commitment to community that drove both he and NAP’s Florida office, where Craig is a VP, to see the Publix deal through despite a uniquely complicated situation: It’s the first ground lease Publix in NAP’s portfolio.
“All the land outside Gateway is owned by Lee County Port Authority, the Southwest Florida International Airport,” Kopko says. He goes on to explain that FAA rules prohibit the airport from selling the land—but they can lease it. “It was extremely complicated. It took us two years just to get through the process with the airport before we could even take the site to Publix to get them to approve it.” Where others might have shied away from such a prolonged and complex negotiation, Kopko understood first-hand what this development could mean for the area. “It was in our backyard; mine and NAP’s,” Craig says. “The community needed a store in Gateway,” he adds, noting the limited options in the underserved area, which in addition to homeowners boasts a daytime population of thousands of airport and corporate employees (including those who work for Gartner, a rapidly expanding publicly traded IT firm), as well as residents of nearby Lehigh Acres. “I think other developers looked at it and said, ‘That’s way too challenging and too time-consuming; we’re not going to do it.’ But at NAP, we’re okay with that.” “All developments have challenges. We like to take them head on. At the end of the day, as a developer, it’s what we do.” While Sky Walk is already anchored by Publix, the development offers more than groceries. A mix of other tenants, including Allstate, Verizon, Dunkin’ Donuts, China Fusion, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Tropical Smoothie Café, plus services like a dry cleaner, nail salon and Hair Cuttery, also serve residents, create new jobs and stimulate continued growth in the region. The entire center represents a long-awaited step toward realization of Gateway’s original vision. Craig, for one, is thrilled to help bring it all to life.
“This is the Publix we shop at as a family. And it’s pretty cool to have built something that is really ours as a community.”