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Council opens section of Academic Village to private sector; Research or business park is plan

By Staff | May 20, 2008

By MATT BLUMENFELD, “mailto:mblumenfeld@breezenewspapers.com”>mblumenfeld@breezenewspapers.com

In an effort to capitalize on a growing trend in large-scale development, Cape Coral plans to pursue an alternate future for the Academic Village site in the northeastern part of the city.

Elected officials unanimously signed off on a plan devised by Economic Development Director Mike Jackson to submit requests for proposals to the private sector to develop a research or business park on a segment for the site while retaining ownership of the land.

“What we’re finding is that the market is looking at opportunities like never before,” he told the City Council of the land lease concept. “They don’t have to buy the land, which allows them to build less expensively.

Jackson said he will send out proposals, at a maximum cost of $500, to deep-pocketed developers to lease a section of the Academic Village for those individuals to build on.

We are not recommending anything other than an expansion of the vision of Academic Village,” he added, noting that the site’s plans will still include a post-secondary educational facility as well as a city charter high school.

The council signed off on the purchase of the 171-acre site, located on Kismet Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard, in 2003 to set up a central education hub for the Cape, which could include a collegiate branch site and the high school.

But a poor economy and declining state revenue have forced universities like Florida Gulf Coast University to restrict enrollment and set aside ideas for future expansion, and the charter high school will likely be built near the current middle school.

The city’s geography is also working against it. Jackson pointed to the bevy of educational sites that are cropping up along Interstate 75. The Cape currently does not have direct access to the highway, but given the opportunity, private developers could figure out a way to mitigate the proximity issue and make a large-scale commercial or research facility workable.

We are competing against our geography,” he said. “This proposal would allow us to make an attempt to see what the private sector can do.

The site remains vacant five years after the city paid $6.8 million for it.

Despite misgivings from some members of council expressed at a workshop meeting two weeks ago, every elected official got behind the idea, especially after hearing the cost would be negligible.

This is a good thing that happened,” said Councilmember Tim Day. He argued that the commercial or research development may end up enticing the kind of educational facility that the city was originally looking for.

The city has also faced an uphill battle developing the Academic Village because of environmental concerns as a section of the site is on protected wetlands. Jackson assured the council that those issues will be spelled out to any potential developer.

After hearing that a similar deal at Southwest Florida International Airport has a 25-year lease, elected officials expressed concern over a long-term deal. Councilmember Jim Burch said he would not want the lease to run longer than the airport’s.

In other news

— In a unanimous decision, the council placed a temporary moratorium on seawall assessments and put new regulations in place that requires residents to be notified in advance by mail of the pending assessments. Phase IX of the project would have required 175 properties to install a seawall on their saltwater canals.

— By a 7-1 margin, the moratorium of enforcing the code banning the planting of royal palms in the right of way was extended by 60 days. An upcoming ordinance changing landscaping standards needs to be tweaked to include the palms as an allowed planting so long as they do not affect power lines.