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Progress mixed on key Cape projects

By Staff | Dec 31, 2010

Cape Coral continues to find its way through the economic collapse, searching for ways to jumpstart the local economy through a mix of the new and the old.
Several projects slated for the coming year lean on what made the city a boomtown, but real estate alone is not in the cards for the city in 2011.
Some projects will be starting, while others will wrap up, and medical, retail, road construction, mixed use developments, redevelopment and of course a little bit of real estate all will be components of the city’s future.

VA/VIZ/Reserve Center
The new Veterans Administration Clinic is slated to open in a year, but the surrounding area, dubbed the “Veterans Investment Zone” by the city’s Economic Development Office, is the driving force behind the city efforts to create a certain type of commercial and professional synergy. Following a VIZ forum in November, EDO’s Christy Vogt said the zone has drawn interest from a number of sources, including medical, professional and retail.
“Patriot Plaza,” a mixed use development being eyed for the VIZ, will come before city council in 2011 as those developers seek special financial incentives for the non-retail portion of the property, as part of their finance package.
Vogt also said several “medical offices” are “talking to each other” about the prospect of building a Health Park like facility in the VIZ, though Vogt declined to identify those offices due to confidentiality.
Another key component of the area is the proposed Army Reserve Center. Although officials have yet to commit to Cape Coral, Vogt said the city is on top of their list, as they continue to pursue the environmental due diligence.
“Our site is first on their list of three or four,” Vogt said. “I know they’re very interested.”

Santa Barbara/Del Prado Extension/SR 78
Both the Santa Barbara Blvd widening and the North Del Prado extension projects will be completed next year, according to City Transportation Manager Steve Neff.
Santa Barbara is scheduled to be done by May, Neff said, while the Del Prado extension should be wrapped up no later than July.
Both projects are coming in on schedule, and under budget, according to Neff.
The exact time frame of when Pine Island Road/SR 78 will be widened between Chiquita and Burnt Store Road is still unclear, however, but Neff said a funding mechanism could soon be in place.
Cape Coral has applied for a state infrastructure bank loan, and is “programmed” for funding in Fiscal Year 2013, though Neff said that doesn’t mean shovels will be in the ground that same year.
“It’s a very positive step,” Neff said. “They continue to take small steps toward implementation, though the concrete details are not yet worked out.”
One issue with moving forward is right-of-way acquisition, Neff said. Although the design of the widening project is complete, the much-needed right-of-way still remains elusive.
“We’ve received a couple of donations over the years, but it would accelerate the project if people did donate rights-of-way,” Neff said.
The Florida Department of Transportation has the project slotted in its tentative work program for fiscal years 2012 – 2016.

Celebration Cape
Celebration Cape broke ground just over a year ago, staking claim to the only new community development the city has seen over the last five years.
Since then progress has been slow, but steady, as 10 homes are now in various stages of construction.
Managing partner Roger Schutt said he’s tempered expectations somewhat since first breaking ground, but is still excited about the opportunities Celebration Cape will provide to those who are looking to build a new home.
“If I had any disappointment it would not be the level of interest, it’s the reality of buying in today’s economy,” Schutt said. “There are plenty of people who want to buy, but the banks have raised the bar on who they’re lending to.”
Schutt said Celebration Cape is trying to work against some of those odds by offering in-house developer finance options.
“The FHA buyers who would have been shut out during the 90 – 120 days between permitting and building, we’ll finance that construction, then the bank will close out the loan,” Schutt added.
Celebration Cape is also trying to listen to the consumer, Schutt said, offering larger floor plans than originally envisioned, and allowing buyers to “tweak” their floor plans through their “flex space floor plans”.
Those opportunities have attracted many home buyers Schutt said, but the housing market, still reeling, has not allowed everyone to make the kind of commitment they might have five, 10 years ago.
Still, Schutt is confidant Celebration Cape will be a success, even though he had to adjust his hopes for the speed in which the community will become fully realized.
Looking one year ahead Schutt said, “Tempered by the challenges, we’d like to be at least a third sold out,” Schutt said. “When I started I would have said 50 percent by the end of the second year, but a third is more realistic.”

Dan Creighton’s Development at Santa Barbara and Veterans
City council recently approved selling land at the corner of Santa Barbara Boulevard and Veterans Parkway to developer Dan Creighton, paving the way for what Creighton said will be a project that will provide at least 300 jobs.
Creighton is paying just over $250,000 for the property, a deal that was struck by the previous city council last April to sell the land, which is deed restricted.
Creighton said previously that Winn-Dixie is already slated to anchor the mixed use development, which also will feature a bank.
The project is expected to bring $150,000 each year in property taxes, 300 jobs, $750,000 in impact fees and $355,000 in utility fees. All told project could benefit the city to the tune of $1.5 million.
When the project will break ground is unknown.
Neither Dan Creighton nor Winn-Dixie representatives could be reached for comment.

CRA/Cape Coral Parkway
The Community Redevelopment Agency’s Vision Plan will be close to completion next year, as phase two is expected during the first half of the year.
Addressing the district’s zoning and codes, the second phase of the plan will try to undo what previous vision plans accomplished, which is make the zoning and land use regulations convoluted and unfriendly to business within the CRA.
Other parts of the plan could be implemented next year. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is seeking Lee County funds to turn Four Freedoms Park into a beach, and Miramar Street could be made into the south “transportation couplet” described in the plan.
Those moves, along with the undergrounding of transmission lines and a small influx of new businesses in the district, will give the CRA the chance to “reboot”, according to Executive Director John Jacobsen.
“I’m thinking 2011 will be a wonderful year for the CRA … the reset button has been pushed,” he said.
Jacobsen cited the rebuilding of Cape Coral Parkway as another item that will enhance and renew the CRA. Slated to begin in April, the project will literally rebuild the road, instead of merely filling the many potholes and bumps that plague the thoroughfare between Coronado and Del Prado.
With expectations becoming more realistic, Jacobsen said the redevelopment of the district will continue unheeded.
“The thing that people need to keep in mind, is that redevelopment takes time,” Jacobsen said. “We’re just coming out of this now, and we have a solid blueprint to tell us where and how to do it.”

The Golf Course
The city has retained the law firm of Roetzel and Andress to defend against an inverse condemnation lawsuit relating to the golf course property in downtown Cape Coral.
Owners of the acreage feel the city is taking the property by not granting a requested land use change.
The case is now at the “discovery level,” according to attorney Robert Pritt, who works for Roetzel and Andress. Pritt also serves as the attorney for the CRA.
“The trial would be to determine if the ‘taking’ has occurred,” Pritt said. “But there’s nothing that says what might happen with the property in the future.”

Robbie Lee’s
Village Square
Developer Robbie Lee recently closed through the city on a parking lot that will become part of his “Village Square” development, envisioned as a mixed use property in the heart of the CRA.
Fifth-Third Bank is still committed to the project’s first phase, which is expected to break ground in 2011, although exact dates are unknown.
Annette Barbaccio said the project is still going forward as planned.
“There will likely be building plan approvals and maybe construction next year, but I can’t get specific with dates,” Barbaccio said.