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County to consider swim center negotiations

By Staff | May 8, 2010

Lee County commissioners will decide Tuesday on whether they should support a “Letter of Interest” with the National Swim Center Corporation, giving both parties 120 days to determine the feasibility of building Olympic caliber swimming pools at City of Palms Park.
If approved, the three sides –including the city of Fort Myers –will enter into an agreement similar to the Memorandum of Understanding proposed by Cape Coral city staff several weeks ago.
The Letter of Interest is not binding. Instead, the letter allows the parties a loose commitment, an agreement to agree, of sorts.
“This allows us to get into this discovery phase and show them (the NSCC) some commitment,” said Lee County Sports Authority Director Jeff Mielke. “It doesn’t mean we can’t do something else if we want to.”
Mielke said City of Palms Park has yet to find another tenant after the Red Sox vacate next spring and the swim center would fill an obvious need for the property.
He said City of Palms Park is a obvious choice because much of the infrastructure already exists, though heavy renovation is needed to convert a baseball stadium into a competitive swimming complex.
County Commissioner Frank Mann said he wants to make sure the NSCC has the money they already committed to the project. When the complex was being eyed here in Cape Coral, the NSCC said they had $20 million to commit, but it is unknown whether they are pledging the same figure for the City of Palms location.
Regardless, Mann said the county has no money to put toward the project, having already committed bed tax dollars to the new Red Sox stadium.
He said he will not support spending any of the county’s reserves on the project. Neither does he know what the overall cost will be.
“Nobody has put a price tag on it and no one said how much its going to cost,” Mann said.
Mann said the county “casually” committed $4.5 million to the Cape Coral version of the project, and could do the same in Fort Myers.
The money would come from Florida Gulf Coast University, which is set to buy back the county’s interest in their pools on campus, according to Mann. He added that the county does not yet have the $4.5 million.
“I watched the saga unfold in Cape Coral and it troubled me,” Mann said. “The stumbling block for me is money, and I still do not see how that’s going to be overcome.”
Patrice Cunningham, who handles public relations and marketing for Swim Florida USA, said the organization wants to see the facility built, whether it is in the Cape or the other side of the river.
Cunningham said Swim Florida will be hosting over 1,000 swimmers to kick off their season at the Fort Myers Aquatic Center in the coming days.
A Cape Coral mother of a swimmers herself, she said it needs to be built, regardless of the location.
“As a Cape resident, I’m sad we’re going to miss such a large opportunity … but we’d love to see an aquatic center anywhere in the county,” she said.
County Commission Chair woman Tammy Hall did not return calls seeking comment Friday.
County Commissioners are set to meet on Tuesday, May 11, 9:30 am, in the Old Lee County Courthouse.