Swim center officials seek negotiations on new proposal
National Swimming Center Corporation officials want nothing more from Lee County Commissioners right now than the opportunity to negotiate the terms of turning City of Palms Park into an Olympic caliber swimming facility, a move they say would benefit the county to the tune of millions of dollars of revenue.
John Albion, speaking on behalf of the group on Friday, said for right now, all they want is for commissioners to verify their numbers through Lee’s economic development and sports authority offices.
“If the answer should be no, without negotiating, they (commissioners) should be fielding other options for the public’s benefit,” Albion said.
A former county commissioner and current director of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, Albion said there are currently no other viable options for the county-owned City of Palms Park, which will sit idle once vacated by the Boston Red Sox and force commissioners to find other revenue to cover the losses on maintaining and operating the facility.
Albion said the county spends $1.4 million operating and maintaining City of Palms Park, a figure they would save if they move forward with the swim center.
Albion said the NSCC is asking Lee to put up a $40 million bond on the facility and, in return, the county will get a facility that could have as many as 80 events per year with nearly $8 billion in direct economic impact over the next 30 years.
“Cape Coral had uncleared public land,” Albion said of NSCC’s attempts to build its facility in Cape Coral. “This (City of Palms Park in Fort Myers) is a facility the public is continuing to pay on and it’s going to go dark in a couple of weeks. That’s very different from an uncleared piece of property and what are they going to do with it?”
An NSCC proposal for a built-from-scratch facility was rejected by Cape Coral City Council last April following a 12-hour meeting that saw hundreds of supporters and detractors pack council chambers.
The NSCC wanted to construct an expansive, multi-million dollar facility in Cape Coral that boasted not only an Olympic caliber indoor swimming pool, but also a convention center and hotel.
Projected to cost $84.9 million, the project never got past a $50,000 study conducted by the city about the project’s viability.
NSCC officials found opposition again in September of last year when county commissioners decided to reject a proposal for City of Palms due to concerns about funding.
Having adjusted their plans and ambitions for the project between Cape Coral and Fort Myers, the NSCC envisions the City of Palms Park stadium being transformed into an Olympic swimming destination, at a cost of roughly $36 million.
Lee County Commissioner John Manning, of Cape Coral, said there was more work to be done by county staff before getting to the negotiation phase.
“I have asked them to get with our senior county staff to vet the proposal a little further … I’m in a holding pattern,” Manning said.
County commissioners are not expected to discuss the proposal as an agenda item in the immediate future.
Commissioners Ray Judah, Frank Mann and Tammy Hall could not be reached for comment.