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Bimini ‘charette’ bandies ideas

By Staff | Jan 29, 2015

Imagine walking along the boardwalk with lush greenscapes toward an expanded Four Freedoms Park, being able to shop and eat at a multitude of shops before catching a concert at the outdoor amphitheater.

Those were just a handful of ideas bantered about Thursday as Terrace Hall hosted more than 40 stakeholders, city leaders and curious onlookers for a charette on the future of Bimini Basin.

Taryn Sabia, a member of the research faculty at the school of architecture at the University of South Florida, said the idea was to come up with creative design solutions to jumpstart the development of the Bimini Basin area.

“We want to get as much input from the community as possible. We’re here to get feedback and some working sketches of potential design ideas,” Sabia said. “The basin has potential that hasn’t been fulfilled. It’s disconnected and whatever development hasn’t been done in unison or with a vision.”

The guidelines were simple. Sabia had the stakeholders name the attributes of Cape Coral, downtown and Bimini Basin, then had them name transformations, such as wanting to go from people shopping in Fort Myers to shopping in Cape Coral.

The stakeholders were then split into six teams and told to pick five attributes and three most important transformations.

From there, the teams brainstormed to come up with the best concepts within two hours, with students from USF sketching out those ideas.

The teams then presented their visions (complete with the project’s name) to the packed house, and the public was invited to vote on the two best concepts.

Paul Vandenberg, of Tudor Drive, just one block from the basin, had seen many of these ideas come and go in the past. Still, he remained hopeful.

“I hope they open the northern end of Bimini Basin, put in shops and docks, that would be nice,” Vandenberg said.

Mayor Marni Sawicki was there to see the process get started and was happy to see a project that has been 20 years in the making finally gain traction and that so many young people were involved in the process.

“I’m hoping we get very neat ideas with the community’s input, that we create something that’s ours. I really think it should be what the community wants,” Sawicki said. “I love the way USF, with their youth, haven’t been told no, so they may come up with really neat things we had not considered.”

Sawicki stressed that the average age of a city should be 35 and that Cape Coral’s was about 42, so having an outside looking in was a plus.

Had she been able to stay, she would not have been disappointed as the drawings came out and taped to the wall for everyone to observe.

Many of the projects had the same vision, which included boardwalks along the water and places to eat, drink, live, work and play.

Others had more outside the box ideas, such as expanding Four Freedoms Park to include an amphitheater as well as expanding the underutilized Rubicon Canal (at a cost of about $30 million).

The stakeholders were excited about what they had accomplished.

“It went great. Everybody has similar ideas. To get different input from 42 people and breaking them down to six tables and getting something outside of just the water was very educational,” said former council member Marty McClain, whose team created an idea borrowed from a plan in Fort Myers. “The stakeholders have had a vested interest here for years.

“We had a diverse group with a landowner, a contractor, a Realtor and a young person, which was great because we could see 40 to 60 years down the road,” said Mike Quaintance, president of the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce. “We eliminated any barriers that exist, such as zooming and buying property. All the plans have an emphasis on the water and how they interact. In a community with 400 miles of canals, we don’t have a lot of public access, so we were looking for a commercial destination, but maintain the public access.”

Joe Fisher, who lives on the Rubicon Canal around 5th Place, was impressed by the ideas that came about, and made up his mind about one project before changing his mind in favor of another.

“I was surprised by the various ideas. I’m glad I came because there was a preconceived notion these plans would have the waterway extended across the parkway and I see only a couple do.”