Forum held to discuss business expansion in the Cape
About four dozen people attended a forum Saturday called to encourage positive discussion on how to improve the city by increasing business and job opportunities.
Citizens for a Better Cape Coral, described as a non-partisan group, is spearheaded by Cape Coral property owner Francisco Brea. He said the group really took shape in July when small business owners came together with the same vision in mind – to share input on how to enhance Cape Coral. Brea said by August the idea really “started moving” through the community as more individuals got involved.
Eleven small and big business owners organized the meeting that was held at the Cape Coral Library. They invited members of the business community as well as city and county officials.
Cape Coral Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said the meeting was held to bring good minds together to find solutions without a personal platform and political group discussions.
“We have spent quite a few months hearing how things haven’t been done,” Leetz said, adding that it is time to get it done in a “team spirit” manner.
Many individuals spoke before the crowd of city council members, Lee County commissioners and various community members about programs the city could implement to help bring jobs and businesses back into the community. Although the ideas shared did not include where the funding would come from, it shaped a platform of possibilities in enhancing Cape Coral.
Steve Lovejoy, with Advanced Forms & Printing, Inc. said it is time for the community to work together and not point fingers anymore. He said it is all about solving problems and coming up with solutions by thinking outside of the box.
“This is important that we work together and put aside our differences,” Lovejoy said.
One of the suggestions Lovejoy presented was using potential money from the county to generate more jobs and revenue for Cape Coral. Lovejoy said, for example, if 500 people were hired and the county provided $7 million to spend it would be followed by another $7 million that the local businesses generated.
Another idea Lovejoy shared at the meeting was to offer discounts to employees, so they continue to spend money in the community. He said various business owners could help by offering them a service, which for him would be for printing.
“I’m willing to work with anyone…I’m willing to put my tail between my legs and work with anyone,” Lovejoy said. “Let’s make this happen and let’s move forward.”
John Jacobson, the director of the downtown Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency also offered a presentation to the audience of the possibilities of downtown Cape Coral bringing in more businesses. He said the CRA is trying to make a place where people want to go.
He shared the idea of how downtown Cape Coral could be enhanced by providing a downtown entertainment core. The vision is to realign the parking lot, which will add additional parking spots in the Big John parking lot. It also included an open air pavilion, so various activities could be hosted like little markets and live entertainment by bands playing at night.
Jacobson said it can be done very inexpensively.
“We can create a place to enjoy….something we can do every week without closing the street,” he said adding it wiould be an opportunity to “create gathering points.”
Jacobson also said Cape Coral Parkway needs to become pedestrian friendly, so individuals can enjoy downtown on foot or bike, which would encourage businesses to stay open longer because there was more traffic at night and on the weekends.
The CRA offers many incentives for new businesses and existing businesses in Cape Coral.
“We offer incentives to new businesses building, existing buildings, we do everything we can to try to help our businesses grow,” he said. “We need to find ways to add jobs… we now need to focus on jobs… let’s put people to work.”
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah also spoke at the meeting Saturday afternoon about various programs that are offered to help assist small businesses. He mentioned the Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University. Judah said there is a number of professional staff at FGCU that assists small businesses by offering them many resources .
“The Cape is a desirable, wonderful place,” Judah said, adding that Cape Coral has the potential to create more jobs. “The Cape is part of the inventory of land area when encouraging existing businesses to expand.”
Michael Schneider-Christians, a Realtor of Cape Coral, moved to Cape Coral 25 years ago from Germany because he inherited five lots in Cape Coral and fell in love what the city had to offer. He spoke about how the city could attract more foreign nationals
He proposed that a committee should be formed because the members of the community need to “do it ourselves….pull ourselves out of the hole.”
Schneider-Christians said since foreign nationals love Cape Coral and the city needs to show them the possibilities of opening a business in the city.
Brea was the last speaker to share his vision for Cape Coral. He told the crowd he wants to push hard in transforming the Yacht Club to bring more business and people into the Cape. His vision includes building a huge roof to cover the entire area with a restaurant on the water and a sports bar.
“It’s like a dump right now,” he said about the Yacht Club.
Brea said if a water taxi was implemented at the Yacht Club it could go to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel to bring more people into Cape Coral.
Brea said he plans to hold at least three more forums before the end of the year to get Cape Coral moving in a positive direction in creating businesses and jobs for the city.
Leetz said he believes in the next 12 to 18 months Cape Coral is going to move heaps and bounds ahead.