'Iconic Mona Lisa' of a property tied to Hooters pioneer sells off McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers

Written by:
Phil Fernandez
Fort Meyers News-Press
April 14, 2023

As beautiful as Thomas Edison’s palms are along McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers, it was always tough getting a glimpse of the scenic, peaceful Caloosahatchee River while motoring by the mansions or trying to peek down the long, side streets.

Except maybe for a magical 100-foot stretch in the five miles between the Fort Myers Country Club and Cypress Lake Drive where the sun suddenly shoots through from the blue and provides a calming sight from the petite, perhaps underappreciated Whiskey Creek bridge.

A spot for sunset shots and at times, mostly in a smaller town past, where oblivious teenagers somehow survived childhood, jumping off the crossing and then avoiding the aggressive alligators and menacing water moccasins below.

Looking out from McGregor, there’s a 1.65-acre “irregular-shaped” Gilligan’s Island inlet that every river-bound boater from the Whiskey Creek community must pass before cranking it into the expanse that until a few days ago had been under the watchful eye of EXP Realty’s Nick Cross. At 900 Robalo Drive, Cross called it, “truly one of a kind — the most unique parcel of waterfront property in Southwest Florida” purchased by Wisconsin-based land investor, Robert A. Greenheck Revocable Trust, for $3.4 million.

It’s the priciest recycled house lot that In the Know can find in public records for that corridor, and tied to Lee County legends. It’s where former Fort Myers mayor and hotshot attorney Wilbur Smith’s grandparents, the Fohls, originally built their adored homestead more than 60 years ago. Smith’s dad, Bill Smith, learned about business by working in John Fohl’s downtown hardware store for a decade, a precursor for the late Smith’s and his wife, Mary Fohl’s regional appliance chain that debuted in 1954.

Every room of the 2,500-square foot house had a view of the river, and more than 200 varieties of plantings grew outside.

In a February 1964 feature of the abode that, with its view, became the center of fundraising tours for charities throughout its history, The News-Press Society Editor Geraldine Vesper delighted in the antique Chinese bowls, the pink marble walls and the gray and rose Cuban tile floor.

Then in September 1971, local banking leader and investor and former Houston honcho Cordell L. Garner, a major player on Southwest Florida business, civic and government boards, purchased it for $110,000, which in today’s dollars would be about $800,000 or so, according to inflation calculators.

The late Garner grew it to 4,353 square feet by adding a second floor in 1974 that included a wraparound veranda, and as The News-Press reported, tours continued of the manor’s “island-style/old world atmosphere, (the) quintessence of the Southwest Florida lifestyle.”

What is the property’s connection to Dan Marino and Hooters?

One of the more quirky transactions in the region’s annals involved the property and beloved local Hooters pioneer and playful partier Dave “Lags” Lageschulte, the former late owner of a pair of Arena Football League teams, among his hundreds of endeavors, investments, projects, national franchises and philanthropic efforts.

It almost sounded like a trade you would see in sports, and it’s not a surprise it’s Lags, who in 1993 stunned his Miami Hooters Coach Don Strock, a member of the prestigious Miami Dolphins Walk of Fame, by firing him after leading the arena squad to the playoffs and winning four of his last five regular-season games.

And owning the Indiana Firebirds for three seasons, Lags put the arena club up for sale on e-Bay after canning another former Dolphins quarterback, Steve DeBerg as his head coach.

Here’s how Lags played it out with the property in 1995: Garner and his wife, Mary received $1.01 million and 3.6 vacant acres on Metro Parkway in exchange for their riverfront estate and $314,700.

The house was eventually demolished along the way, and the site went to heirs, along with a slew of luxury vessels and vehicles including his collection of Cadillac Escalades, upon his 2014 death marked by at least three celebration of life events in Lee County, his native Iowa and Aspen, Colorado, where he owned a home.

After moving to Fort Myers in 1974, Lags had launched numerous ventures including about 20 locations for Hooters Florida; the gourmet-bowling concept, Splitsville; Runabouts; Adobe Gila’s; Royal Pig Pub; Lulu’s Bait Shack; Ugly Tuna Saloona; Stumps Supper Club; and several with Dolphins great Dan Marino all the way to Las Vegas.

He was one of five area businessmen who opened the first Lee County Hooters franchise in 1986 after the chain was created in Clearwater by two of his high school classmates from the Hawkeye state, a nickname that he also used as part of the moniker for some of his enterprises.

“I have the fondest memories of Lags, but also, too, (of) that special lot” so prominent from the bridge, Lee County native and real estate specialist Paige Rausch said. “Everybody, as you drive over it, and you’re looking at the sunset, it’s always (been) this stunning lot that you look at every time. I can’t tell you how many people have taken sunset shots. (It) is, by far, an iconic Mona Lisa of a lot on the Caloosahatchee that all of us have sat and dreamed of.”

What families have sold their SW Florida Chevrolet car dealership?

The families who run Estero Bay Chevrolet have sold their dealership to a publicly traded Fortune 300 international automotive company for an undisclosed price.

Houston-based Group 1 Automotive is adding the spot at Corkscrew Road and I-75 to its more than 200 locations in the United States and United Kingdom, according to Kerrigan Advisors, which helped guide the deal for the sellers, the Winton and Denson families.

This serves as its first in Southwest Florida to go with one in Dade County and four in the Panhandle, and is expected to generate $150 million in annual revenues, the 5th ranked Chevrolet dealership in new vehicle volume in the state and 44th in the nation, according to Group 1 and Kerrigan. Group 1 said Friday it had a total of 27,551 vehicles in stock at all its sites.

Owners Charles Winton and Pat Denson opened in 2007 with a 32,000-square building on the 20-acre parcel in Estero. They had been chosen in 2003 by General Motors to operate, well ahead of a lot of the growth that followed in the Corkscrew corridor.

Denson and his wife, Brooke, serve as trustees of SWFL Children’s Charities and leaders of the charity’s annual fundraising event, Southwest Florida Wine and Food Fest, which raises funds to improve pediatric health services in the region.

Winton, a foundation fellow and chair emeritus of Florida Gulf Coast University Foundation, has also helped fund education endeavors with his wife through The Charles and Melanie Winton Foundation. The Wintons plan to remain active in Southwest Florida and around Charlotte, N.C., where he continues to own and operate South Charlotte Chevrolet and Rock Hill Buick GMC.

Average revenue per dealership in Florida is the highest in America, said Erin Kerrigan, founder of Kerrigan Advisors.

“Florida is the top auto retail market,” Kerrigan said. “Demand for proven, successful dealerships remains strong nationwide, and Estero Bay Chevrolet is a paragon of success in a premier auto sales region.”

About Kerrigan Advisors

Kerrigan Advisors is the premier sell-side advisor and thought partner to auto dealers nationwide. The firm advises the industry's leading dealership groups, enhancing value through the lifecycle of growing, operating and, when the time is right, selling their businesses. Kerrigan Advisors has represented some of auto retail's largest transactions and advised more of the largest dealership groups in the US than any other buy/sell firm in the industry. Led by a team of veteran industry experts with backgrounds in investment banking, private equity, accounting, finance and real estate, the firm does not take listings, rather they develop a customized approach for each client to achieve their personal and financial goals. In addition to Kerrigan Advisors' sell-side advisory and capital raising services, the firm also provides a suite of consulting services including growth strategy, market valuation assessments, capital allocation, transactional due diligence, open point proposals, operational improvement and real estate due diligence.

Kerrigan Advisors monitors conditions in the buy/sell market and publishes an in-depth analysis each quarter in The Blue Sky Report®, which includes Kerrigan Advisors' signature blue sky charts, multiples, and analysis for each franchise in the luxury and non-luxury segments.—To download a preview of the report, click here.—The firm also releases monthly The Kerrigan Index™ composed of the seven publicly traded auto retail companies with operations focused on the US market. The Kerrigan Auto Retail Index is designed to track dealership valuation trends, while also providing key insights into factors influencing auto retail.—To access The Kerrigan Index™, click here.—To read the—2023 Kerrigan OEM Survey, click here.—Kerrigan Advisors also is the co-author of NADA's Guide to Buying and Selling a Dealership.

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