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Commission picks stadium site near hotels, airport

By Staff | May 1, 2009

Almost six months after county commissioners signed a 30-year lease with the Boston Red Sox to keep the storied baseball franchise in Lee County, commissioners chose the site for the new spring training facility on Wednesday.

The new stadium, estimated to cost $80 million to $100 million, will be located on Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers. The Waterman-Pinnacle site will cost the county roughly $25.1 million to purchase and prepare for construction.

Despite having to de-annex the property from the city of Fort Myers and commit to expanding Daniels Parkway, the site drew favor from commissioners due to the short permitting time and the close proximity to inland hotels and Southwest International Airport.

The Waterman-Pinnacle property also carries the distinction of being near the Madden Research Loop, a proposed bio-tech park the county hopes will attract high-skill, high-wage industry.

Chairman Ray Judah, who had hoped the board and public would favor the Edison Farms property, said the synergy of the Waterman-Pinnacle property is too good to pass up.

“I was hopeful it would be considered because of the size of the site,” he said of Edison Farms. “But the challenges of that site has forced me to be realistic… and because of the potential for the economic catalyst, I choose Waterman.”

The Edison Farms site, one of four finalists, drew criticism from citizens groups and environmental organizations since it was first announced.

Like the other potential sites, Edison Farms had its fair share of pros and cons. Edison Farms was willing to donate for free 100 acres to build the stadium on, as well as provide 2,000 acres for preservation and water storage.

Groups like the Conservancy of Southwest Florida protested the move, despite Edison Farms’ willingness to donate land for preservation, stating that the environmental sensitivity of the area, which is located in the DRGR, should not be compromised for the sake of baseball.

Also at odds with the Edison Farms location were the inland hoteliers of the greater Fort Myers area. Those present Wednesday thought the Edison Farms location is too far south to be a viable economic engine to hotels of Lee County.

Colleen DePasquale, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn on Summerlin and a member of the Tourism Development Council, said members of the Waterman-Pinnacle team approached her for input. Of the four sites, it was the only group to do so.

“Lee County hotels want a site that is close to the heart of Lee,” DePasquale said. “Edison is too far south, which would benefit Collier County more than Lee.”

Each site seemed to have won its share of champions and detractors. Some sites tickled hoteliers’ fancies, while others pleased developers and property owners with land adjacent to the location.

The only site that seemed to cull near-universal loathing was Edison Farms, which was described Wednesday as too far south, too delicate of a natural treasure or too shady of a deal based on activities of past management at Edison Farms.

The site also caught the eye of Commissioner Frank Mann, who thought the deal was too good to pass up. He called it the “biggest gift horse” he had ever seen.

Mann ultimately chose Waterman-Pinnacle after Red Sox operational liaison Frank Dee said the organization is keenly interested in “what takes place around the ballpark.”

“Fenway is a great place, but the neighborhood surrounding Fenway is even greater,” Dee said. “A great neighborhood really makes a great ballpark… it’s important there’s some growth around the park, that it becomes much more than just a park.”