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Swim center proposal stays afloat

By Staff | Apr 12, 2011

The Lee County Commission has directed staff to look into a new proposal brought forward by the National Swimming Center Corporation.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners were expected to reject a proposal from the group to turn City of Palms Park into an Olympic-caliber swimming facility. The group was asking the county to fund the facility with a $40 million bond.
County staff had recommended that commissioners reject all proposals from the group because they “are not financially feasible,” according to records.
On Monday, the group submitted a new proposal involving no county dollars.
“It provides everything that we have been looking for,” Commissioner Ray Judah said.
According to Judah, the new plan suggests that the project be completed in phases and the group would put up $18.2 million. The group would provide the county with $100,000 annually on a lease, and, if the project did not pan out, it would reportedly cost only $400,000 to $450,000 to revert to a stadium.
“They would incur all the risk in constructing and reconstructing this,” Judah said.
“They have verified that they have $25 million,” he added. “They have the money to build this first phase.”
Judah voiced support for the new proposal because of the low risk and no upfront funding from the county, as well as interest from others in utilizing the facility. He said they were the only group to show interest in the park, but that is not a reason.
“It’s that they have a viable product here,” Judah said.
County staff reported Tuesday that they could not verify that there would be no cost to the county to move forward on final negotiations because they did not have all the information.
Commissioner Frank Mann said he was open to continuing dialogue with the group based on the new proposal. He also suggested that the city of Fort Myers be involved in future discussions since it owns the parking around the stadium.
“Frankly, to me, for the first time it showed some promise,” Mann said.
Commissioner Tammy Hall suggested that the commission advise staff to move forward with investigating the new proposal and recommended having one commissioner serve as the liaison in future talks with swim center officials.
Mann agreed that it was appropriate tmove the new proposal back into the county staff’s lap to review and red-flag any issues of interest or concerns.
“I like the proposal,” he said, adding he’s not ready to commit.
Judah motioned to direct staff to collaborate with the city of Fort Myers and look into the new proposal from the National Swimming Center. It passed 5-0.
The commission gave staff 30 days to come back with a recommendation.
Hall later flipped her vote, leaving the final tally 4-1, after clarifying that the commission would not be able to consider any other proposals for the park or direct staff to look at any others until talks with the swim center were done.
The county reportedly spends $1.4 million operating and maintaining the City of Palms Park, monies that would have to made up somewhere else after the Boston Red Sox vacate the facility.
In the previous proposal from the group, the county would have received in return for its $40 million bond a facility that could have up to 80 events per year with nearly $8 billion in direct economic impact over the next 30 years.
Last year, the Cape Coral City Council rejected a proposal from the National Swimming Center to construct a facility with an Olympic-caliber indoor swimming pool, as well as a convention center and hotel. The projected cost was $84.9 million, but the project never got past a $50,000 viability study.