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Purchase, funding mechanism for new stadium OK’d

By Staff | Jun 3, 2009

Lee County commissioners approved purchasing the Waterman-Pinnacle site for the new Red Sox stadium at their meeting Tuesday.
Located on Daniels Parkway east of Interstate 75, the 106-acre site was purchased for $20 million.
Appraised at $20.5 million, commissioners saved half a million on the site, though Waterman-Pinnacle’s original asking price was $22 million. County staff deemed Waterman-Pinnacle the most attractive of four proposed sites for the new stadium due to being nearly construction ready.
“This site had by far the most entitlements already approved,” said Public Works Director Jim Lavender. “It moves the project along much quicker than the other sites. I’m excited, this is the best site we could hope for.”
The property must first be de-annexed from the city of Fort Myers before construction can begin.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow wondered if the de-annexation would hamper construction due to a time frame within the Red Sox/Lee County lease that states the project must be completed by a certain date.
Bigelow asked if leaving the property within Fort Myers’ boundaries is a viable option.
“It does make it more complicated for us, since we’re working on a time frame,” said Lee County Attorney David Owen. “Our preference is that the project remain in the county.”
Fort Myers city officials have already passed a resolution proposing the de-annexation, but no official date has been set. Nor has a start date for construction been eyed, though county staff estimates breaking ground just over a year from now.
Before one shovel of dirt can be turned, however, commissioners had to decide how to best pay for the project.
They approved a loan from the unincorporated MSTU fund of $70,000,000 to be repaid from tourist development tax revenues.
With $20 million already spent on the site purchase, $50 million remains to construct the stadium though no one, at this point, knows how much the stadium will cost.
Bigelow again asked staff if the remaining $50 million would be sufficient to fund construction. Staff had little idea.
“We’re one year away from taking this project to bid,” Lavender said. “I’m comfortable today (funding construction for $50 million), but it’s hard to know where we’ll be in a year.”
Commissioners approved the Waterman-Pinnacle purchase 3-2, with Bigelow and Commissioner Frank Mann dissenting. The vote was the same on the unincorporated MSTU loan approval.
Chairman Ray Judah was adamant in his decision, saying the county could not pass up such a beneficial business opportunity.
“This is a good business decision for Lee County,” he said.