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Cape Council discusses strategic goals

By Staff | Mar 12, 2015

What kind of city does Cape Coral want to be in the next three to five years and how does it get there from here?

Those were the questions the Cape Coral City Council tried to answer during a strategic planning workshop at the No. 8 Fire House on Wednesday.

In the end, they decided that whatever they decided to accomplish, it had to be both sustainable and possible, given the city’s pre-platted nature.

City Manager John Szerlag moderated the discussion, where city leaders discussed the mission, vision and values of the city, as well as the priority goals for the city in the next three years.

The five main priority goals the council discussed were to increase economic development and redevelopment; enhance financial sustainability; invest in community infrastructure, including utility expansion to meet needs of future residents; improve the city’s image and increase the quality of life.

The top priority was how to bring in and retain businesses.

Councilmember Rick Williams raised the question of what kind of businesses the city wants. Would it be manufacturing or more gas stations and dollar stores.

Economic Director Dana Brunett said the city is restricted by the amount of land zoned, since manufacturers don’t want to be in neighborhoods and those areas need sewer and water.

“They want to be ready now, not in two years,” Brunett said. “We need to vision into the future. That’s going to be big.”

“We are always reactive. We need to be proactive. That’s what we’ve been elected to do, and we can’t do that unless we have a vision,” Williams said.

Even if council wants to bring in manufacturing, it would be tough without the supporting infrastructure, from roads to internet and even parking.

“We fall short on roads and internet. Many won’t invest in the city because the city needs high-speed internet,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. “Every day we wait, a company goes somewhere else.”

Councilmember Jim Burch said the city doesn’t have the benefits Fort Myers has, such as an airport and interstate highway interchange.

“It’s the pre-platted problem. Do we continue with dollar stores? We continue to be patchwork when we shouldn’t,” Burch said, adding that Cape Coral tax dollars have been building areas like Bonita Springs and Estero.

Sustainability was another topic, especially as it pertains to the upcoming Utility Expansion Project and the massive debt that would create, as well as the need for the city to hire more people.

In the end, council agreed that everything has to be sustainable, to the point where Erbrick wanted that attribute added to its mission statement.

Also on the table was how to improve the city’s image and build relationships with its residents. Council discussed how to emphasize the city’s successes and positive attributes, to be transparent to keep the public’s trust and to establish and maintain partnerships with community groups.

This especially pertained to the arts and culture in the city which has a lot to offer with many high profile events that even locals don’t seem to know about.

“We need to get out there. So many people don’t have a clue what’s happening. We have to get out into the media and blow our own horn and utilize conventional and social media,” Williams said.

Mayor Marni Sawicki said the meeting went well and that the council identified some areas where the city needs to move forward.

“Culture, arts, sustainability, these are things we need to look at. This is going to be a major revision, when you talk about sustainability and controls and image. They are new areas of focus for us,” Sawicki said.

Erbrick said it’s the first time she has seen any kind of direction, thanks to an improving economy.

“In order for any organization to make progress, you have to be sustainable,” Erbrick said. “What makes this year different is the economic climate. People are looking at the city. Lee County is a hot commodity. We’re a force now. The question is how do we get out of our own way.”

The strategic plan will be brought to council for a formal vote in the coming weeks.