Candidates’ take on swimming, skating complexes
Editor’s Note: Each week, The Breeze will ask candidates for city council their views on an issue of interest to the voters. Each candidate is asked the same question in a phone interview. This week’s question is: What role, if any, should the city play in bringing the proposed swimming complex and skating rink projects to Cape Coral?
As the housing market tanked, Cape Coral saw families pack up and leave, their foreclosed homes in their wake.
Many businesses soon joined the exodus, and now city council members are desperate to attract new enterprises.
On Aug. 17, council members unanimously approved two feasibility studies for separate proposals to bring a swimming center complex to the north Cape and an ice skating rink adjacent to the Sun Splash Waterpark. The studies are designed to determine what types of developments will be able to be built in the desired areas.
Candidates for the upcoming municipal elections are in favor of the projects and their potential to bring jobs to the city, but some are leery of providing city money for developments that may never get off the ground.
Incumbent Mayor Jim Burch, a 58-year-old land surveyor, is in favor of streamlining the permitting processes as well as incentives to attract the projects, but is not certain what sort of incentives will be offered.
“I’m not sure exactly what route it would take. We’re still looking to get some cost sharing with Lee County, we hope,” Burch said.
Among the incentives being discussed for both projects are tax deferments and impact fee forgiveness or deferrals. Since both the swimming complex and ice skating rink projects are eyeing city-owned land for development, low-cost leases are also being discussed.
John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker and IT consultant, is amenable to some incentives but is wary of offering city money that is at a premium during a tight budget year.
“We can give them a break on impact fees, maybe lease them some land for cheap, that sort of thing. As long as the city’s not spending too much money, which we don’t have,” Sullivan said.
Former mayor Roger Butler, 74, is excited about the prospect of the projects, but is not in favor of the city helping to pay for the feasibility studies.
Local Saturn dealership owner Bob Goodman and Creighton Development are looking to develop the ice skating rink and are paying for the feasibility study.
The National Swimming Center Corporation, which is trying to bring the swimming complex to the Cape, asked for and received a $25,000 contribution from the city for their feasibility study.
“I don’t have any problem with (incentives). I have a problem with giving them money for the feasibility study,” Butler said.
On the contrary, Steve Lovejoy, the 51-year-old vice president of a document management company, thinks the city should refrain from using any more money to support the projects now that the $25,000 has been spent on the feasibility study.
“My concern right now with stepping into that is we already have a problem with the budget. I’m concerned with spending any more money at this point in time,” Lovejoy said.
Robert Pizzolongo, a 46-year-old Comcast employee, is in favor of tax incentives to entice the projects to the Cape, but at a considerably shorter term than other incentive ideas.
“We should give tax incentives to those businesses, maybe a half year without paying rent,” Pizzolongo said.
Marty McClain, a 51-year-old construction consultant, is also in favor of the projects and any reasonable incentive to bring them to the Cape.
“My thoughts are the city in its current position needs to look at any viable way they can to help those projects,” McClain said.
His opponent, 77-year-old retired aerospace engineer Jim Martin, also sees the projects’ potential for economic development, but is unsure of the NSCC’s credentials.
The NSCC has never built a swimming pool complex before.
“On paper that looks fantastic, but do they have the deep pockets to pull it off?” Martin said.
Incumbent District 4 Council-member Dolores Bertolini was instrumental in persuading NSCC officials to look at the Cape for the future development of the swimming complex.
She’s waiting for the results of the swimming center’s feasibility study, which should take two or three months, before deciding how the city will work with the developers.
“The feasibility study would determine what can fit in what part of the property. That’s the time we can sit down with them and talk about incentives,” Bertolini said.
Bertolini is more reticent about the ice skating rink proposal.
Part of the proposal includes a plan to use the heat generated from running the rink to warm the water used by Sun Splash, thereby keeping the seasonal park open longer. But Bertolini is unsure the city can afford to keep the park open year-round.
“We just don’t have the employees to run that park during the other months,” Bertolini said.
Challenging Bertolini for the District 4 seat is 53-year-old USCG-licensed Capt. Chris Chulakes-Leetz. He is in favor of a low long-term lease of city land for the projects and forgiveness of property taxes for up to 15 years.
“It should be a shared prosperity initiative with tax abatements and without the encumbrance of taxpayer money being utilized toward expenses that should be provided by the developers,” Chulakes-Leetz said.
John Cataldi, Jr., a 69-year-old retired police detective, shares Sullivan’s and Martin’s fears of spending money on a flawed project.
“What happens if the business fails,” Cataldi said Thursday during a debate in response to a question about the swimming complex.
“We have to be very cautious when we’re doing business with a private company,” Cataldi added.
His opponents are more enthusiastic about the project.
“I think the city should partner with (NSCC),” Frank Antos Jr., a 67-year-old retired publisher, said at the debate.
“It would put Cape Coral on the map. It would be like a mini-Olympic area,” Antos added.
Kevin McGrail, a 53-year-old medical technologist, also wants to see the results of the feasibility study before outlining incentive plans.
“I’m wiling to wait to see what the study results shows to see how that might get funded,” McGrail said.