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Swim center discussion set for Monday

By Staff | Apr 24, 2010

At city hall on Monday people will be wearing blue or black shirts, either for or against the proposed Concourse at Cape Coral, depending on which side of the fence their allegiances fall.
Yet, regardless of the project’s polarizing effect, one thing is clear about the decision city council will make: The swim center project will either continue to move forward, or it will be voted down once and for all.
City staff is asking council to accept or reject a “memorandum of understanding” between the city and the National Swimming Center Corporation, the company behind the concourse proposal.
While the memorandum was still being worked on late Friday afternoon, city spokeswoman Connie Barron described it as an agreement that would help to protect the interests of each party — the city, Lee County, and the NSCC — involved in the project.
Should council decide to accept the memorandum, negotiations will likely continue among the three parties, though it would not mean an immediate agreement would be reached.
Should council vote down the project, the NSCC could continue its efforts with Lee County, where officials have openly said they will consider the project should the city take a pass.
District 5 council member Erick Kuehn said Friday that regardless of which way council decides to go, a decision needs to be made.
He said that he’s grown tired of the discussion being dragged out over months.
“As far as I’m concerned, Monday’s vote should be up or down,” said Kuehn. “At some point you have to say, enough is enough.”
City staff’s presentation on Monday will also include possible funding sources they’ve identified should council want to move forward.
One of those sources could be a sales tax exemption from the state, an option that could provide up to $22 million — a sum that could potentially cover the project’s public contribution — which the city could pay back at a rate of $125,000 a month for 240 months.
Rep. Gary Aubuchon was working on this option at the state level.
Though Aubuchon could not be reached for comment, local business leader and activist Joe Mazurkiewicz said the exemption is a viable, bondable source to help move the project along.
Mazurkiewicz said he’d be speaking on behalf of the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce during public comment on Monday.
“My hope if the vote will go to continue to working with the NSCC to make this project a reality in Cape Coral,” he said.
City council set April 26 as its decision deadline in early March, following a presentation by NSCC officials who said a tight scheduling timeline was forcing them to speed the project along as quickly as possible.
At the time, they said the “bid cycle” for swimming events would not favor the new facility if it were not up and running by 2012.
Kuehn said the group’s insistence of first pushing the timetable, then allowing the decision and negotiation process to linger, has put a bad taste in his mouth.
“That puts doubt in my mind,” Kuehn said. “Time tables have changed on a continuous basis.”
District 6 Councilmember Kevin McGrail said if council does kill the project he believes it will find its way across the river.
He said he plans on being a strong supporter of the project from the dais on Monday.
He said he understands the risks involved with the project, and that the city has to take that risk to help pull itself out of the economic malaise of the last two years.
“It’s a very watershed moment in time for the city,” McGrail said. “If it gets shot down, people are going to feel let down, especially if it goes across the river and becomes a success.”
District 3 Councilmember Bill Deile said he had not seen the memorandum of understanding late Friday afternoon, but would not support it unless issues that he felt were unresolved were addressed.
He said he does not see an issue with continuing to work with county and NSCC officials, but he still wants to know, among other things, if the project is economically sustainable, if the city can have a representative on the NSCC board, and if the NSCC will accept having Academic Village leased to them, as opposed to donated.
“I’ll continue to entertain it if they can’t answer those questions Monday, but I won’t agree with the memorandum without some of those answers,” Deile said.
District 2 Councilmember Pete Brandt could not be reached for comment.