■ BY SUE ERWIN
Mark Spurgeon and Robert Johnson gave a presentation on the history of island real estate on Wednesday morning at the Johann Fust Community Library.
“Forty Years of Boca Grande Real Estate” was the first of four History Byte events planned for this season.
Johnson’s family has been coming to Boca Grande for more than 100 years.
“My grandfather came from North Carolina to Punta Gorda for the mullet fishing,” Johnson said, “and they eventually made their way to Boca Grande.”
Johnson said everyone who worked on the island lived on the island until the train station opened.
“The train changed everything. Boca Grande was never the same after that, and development started to happen fast on the island,” Johnson said.
Spurgeon owns Boca Grande Real Estate. He spoke about growing up on the island and presented a 40-year overview of real estate in Boca Grande.
He moved to the island from Fort Myers with his family and he was 8 years old.
Growing up on the island was a special experience, he said, because it was just a sleepy fishing community in the 1960s.
“We moved to Pilot Street, and the first fellow I met on the island was Mike Neighbors, who knocked on my door wearing a cowboy hat and boots, asking if any children wanted to come out and play,” Spurgeon said. “It was a very diverse community, but everybody got along – which was very fortunate.”
The local school was shut down and the railroad depot was vacant, so he took a bus to school every day.
During high school he worked at Fugates, Miller’s Marina and any other place that needed help so he could earn money for college tuition.
At that time, he said, there were about 400 people on the island.
He was walking on Fourth Street one afternoon and a condemned building caught his eye.
“It had been boarded up for quite some time, and I sent the owner a contract to see if he wanted to sell it … and three days later the contract came back signed.”
That was his first real estate transaction. It was in the late 1970s, and things were coming together on the island so quickly that he left college to pursue a career in real estate.
“Imagine this quiet little village and all of a sudden there are condominiums going up … people were getting alarmed.”
Shortly after, the Boca Grande Civic Association (now the GICIA) decided to plan for the influx of people and what would happen down the road.
Sunset Realty purchased the holdings of the Boca Grande Land Company and acquired a large part of the north end of the island. They broke ground and built the canal system for Boca Grande Isles, which was the catalyst for the GICIA and The Gasparilla Island Act.
Seagrape Colony was the first development on the south part of the island.
“That opened up the south of the island for development,” Spurgeon said. “In 1981, the railroad officially abandoned the depot property, so basically every large parcel other than those between First Street and 19th Street was in play for something to happen.”
The Boca Grande Club started in the 1980s, and they had the whole north end of the island under option.
Spurgeon said development continued through the 1980s, and the strong economy in the 1990s brought a lot of investors to the island.
Then, when 9/11 happened, things slowed down until 2007.
By 2013 things started to heat up again.
“Today we are back to where we were before the Great Recession,” he said.
The program, sponsored by U.S. Trust, was free and open to all.
The next History Byte event will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at the Johann Fust Library on 10th Street. The topic will be “Florida Agriculture and Natural Resources.”