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Council to decide swim center issue April 26

By Staff | Mar 9, 2010

As City Council slogged through its questioning of National Swimming Center representatives, it became clear the project would face difficulty securing a vote of confidence when it comes back in late April for approval.
A tight timeline and a funding shortfall of more than $23 million for the project stalled the council’s enthusiasm, but the board did reach a consensus on pushing the final vote back to more than a month, giving the NSCC time to fix what they felt were problems with the proposal.
“I don’t see any down side to continue to entertain this,” Councilmember Bill Deile said.
Deile drove a large part of the questioning, while venting his displeasure with county commissioners who said they would gladly take the project should Cape Coral decide to pass.
He said the county should want to make it work on both sides of the river.
“I have a problem with them not making it work here, but making it work somewhere else in the county,” he added. “If the county can do it in unincorporated Lee, they can do it here … we can’t do it alone.”
NSCC officials told council the time line was tight due to scheduling issues of upcoming swimming events.
The “bid cycle” as they called it, would not favor the new swimming facility if the NSCC did not attempt to wrangle some of those events.
“Events are already being planned,” said John Mchilargy, spokesman for the NSCC. “We need to know if we can have something online by 2012.”
Lee County Sports Authority Director Jeff Mielke told City Council the facility, by itself, could generate more than 65,000 room nights, based on a minimal amount of events.
Mielke said the sporting events currently held in the county generate in the neighborhood of 95,000 room nights, but the swim center could push the county’s sporting profile to the stratosphere.
“For us to take a quantum leap, we have to build a mega facility like this,” Mielke said. “This goes a long way to our region’s marketing efforts.”
With the drop dead date of April 26 now set, city and county staff could go to Tallahassee to seek additional funding for the shortfall.
Mayor John Sullivan said that without that shortfall funding, he couldn’t get behind the facility at all.
“If we can’t get more money I cant support it,” Sullivan said.
Swim Florida coach Ed Collins, who got a standing ovation from his students when pleading with the council to move forward with swim center, said he honestly didn’t know if the facility would benefit his students directly.
Overall, though, he said if the city should pass, he’d like to see it built somewhere.
“I’m not selfish,” he said. “It’s important to see it built.”