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Council backs conference center proposal

By Staff | Aug 5, 2015

Cape Coral City Council is fully behind the developers of the Westin Resort at Tarpon Point’s proposal to build a $10 million conference center on the property with financial assistance from the city.

Monday night’s unanimous approval for the 35,000-square-foot facility means developers will begin the permitting process over the next two months in order to break ground later this year.

“I think council recognized that this project is a game changer for the city,” said attorney Eric Feichthaler who represents the Westin group. “I’m pleased with the unanimous support. It’s really a no-brainer because the city’s return on investment is 50-1. The plan is to break ground this fall.”

Feichthaler addressed council during the presentation citing the potential of the project to be a catalyst for other development in the city. He said the economic impact of the center, similar to Harborside Convention Center in Fort Myers, is more than $33 million in the next three years and establishes Cape Coral as a regional destination for conventions.

“You know that I am a staunch proponent of the golf course area and that has not happened yet,” said Councilmember Jim Burch. “You also know I am a staunch proponent of impact fees because I believe growth needs to pay for growth. This project puts you on the doorstep. We’re not talking about new residents or another hotel here, but a place for conventions and that means we will reap many benefits from that in the future.”

Burch indicated the Westin developers already have paid as much as $4 million in permit and impact fees to date, so he had no misgivings about allowing the city’s financial incentive not to exceed $200,000.

“The impact fees are not being waived,” said Economic Development Director Dana Brunet. “The Westin will pay the impact fees, but we will reimburse them from the Economic Development Reserve Fund. We will then recoup that cost down the road as the money flows around the circle.”

Westin developers also are asking for relief from an agreement to repave Pelican Boulevard from Cape Coral Parkway to Tarpon Point. City staff plans to ask Lee County representatives to cover the $500,000 cost of repaving because the county will benefit economically from the new center as well.

“How long have we talked about a conference center?” asked Councilmember Derrick Donnell. “I am excited. We will recoup the incentive funds in just a few years. I look forward to moving this forward.”

The center is expected to generate more than $100,000 in additional bed tax and retail sales each year upon completion, an additional $22,735 per year in property tax revenue for the city and about $1.7 million in room night revenue. The center’s capacity for banquets is projected to be 900 people.

“This project will put us on the map and bring in new business people who hopefully will leave with a positive view of our city,” said Brunet. “It’ll bring in new money from the outside, and help leverage other developments in the city.”

Other council action

An amendment to the Sandoval Phase IV development project received the green light from council Monday night to allow a mix of commercial and multi-family development on a 10-acre plat with frontage on Pine Island Road. Sandoval developers indicated no specific development has been decided for the property at this time.

Council also approved purchasing upwards of $7 million of new vehicles and equipment across several departments in conjunction with refinancing existing loans at lower rates to save the city about $90,000 per year for the next eight years.

The purchases include fire trucks, vehicles and other equipment for the Parks & Recreation, Fleet and Public Works departments, which are part of the city’s capital asset initiative. Finance Director Victoria Bateman informed council that new loan rates would reduce the city’s principal obligation from 4.5 percent down to 2.1 percent for an overall savings of $750,000.

Council rejected a proposal to build multi-family housing in a single-family residential neighborhood just west of Skyline Boulevard south of Veterans Parkway. The two 10,000 square-foot parcels on Southwest 8th Place are zoned Residential Development. Owners were asking it to be changed to Multi-Family Residential.

Multi-family housing is permitted on Residential Development zoned property as long as the developer has assembled at least three acres. Properties across the street from the subject property are zoned for single-family, so the area naturally has migrated to single-family housing. Neighbors objected to the multi-family proposal saying it would change their neighborhood.

Council agreed and voted 3-5 to deny the request with Council members Burch, Donnell, Richard Leon, Rick Williams and John Carioscia dissenting.

Council holds a special workshop meeting at 4:30 p.m. today in the Nicholas Annex Building conference room. Topics for discussion include the non-bargaining employees implementation and costs proposal done by consultant Segal Waters. Members also will discuss the business plan for the Fleet Department.

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Aug. 10.