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Council discusses proposed D&D boat ramp

By Staff | Apr 24, 2018

It was one of those Committee of the Whole meetings where every time staff and consultants answered a question, two or three more questions popped up.

That’s the way it was for the Cape Coral City Council Monday as it discussed a proposed plan for the D&D boat ramp at its meeting at City Hall, with council splitting on what to do with it.

The D&D property, which has been used as a boat ramp since the early 1970s, was bought by the city in 2012 as part of the city’s mass land buy.

The lease with the city on the 4.48 acres that houses two ramps and a bait shop runs out at the end of the year. The land has been annexed by the city, but the ordinance is being challenged in court by residents of Cape Coral and Matlacha.

City Manager John Szerlag sought instruction from City Council on what direction it should go in, by either refurbishing the boat ramp through grant money and other funding, selling the property outright, or by creating a public/private partnership to develop the site to its highest and best use.

Szerlag came up with a hybrid plan that places a restaurant on the property, creating a money-making venture similar to Ford’s Boat House at the Cape Coral Yacht Club.

While the renovations would cost about $4 million, Szerlag said a restaurant at the site could create up to $300,000 per year in revenue for the city as opposed to selling the land for the proposed $3.6 million.

During public input, residents said they want the city to abandon D&D due to the problems with wakes, manatees and the blind turns that they believe is an accident waiting to happen.

Many said the boat ramp on Tropicana Boulevard or even on Burnt Store Road would be better alternatives.

Staff presentations scuttled the idea that the D&D ramp was unsafe, as evidenced through data that said Lee County is in the top five in registered vessels in the state, but only in the top 10 in reportable accidents, with none of them in the immediate area of the boat ramp.

Also, the city currently has four saltwater ramps and 11 freshwater ramps. Considering the city seeks one ramp for every 10,000 residents, it is behind the eight ball, needing 40 of them by the time the city builds out.

Councilmember Rick Williams was not convinced, saying there are far too many weekend boaters, and that adding ramps or improving D&D would only make matters worse. He along with Councilmember David Stokes believe the city should sell the property.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden was also not convinced, going as far to say it sounded like a “sales pitch.”

However, Councilmember Marilyn Stout saw potential in the property and the public/private partnership, especially if it adds income to the city, if not necessarily ad valorem taxes.

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson agreed in the P3 concept, using the Boat House as the benchmark. She said it would help D&D be self-sustaining, provided there is enough parking and safety concerns are met, with a 15-year return on investment.

“If there’s no cash outlay by the city and that $4 million comes from grants and we can put a P3 on it, I love the idea,” Nelson said. “If it addresses the safety concerns, it’s a win-win.”

Councilmember John Gunter sought to perhaps get rid of the ramps and make it all P3 property so the city can generate potentially millions.

“There are more questions to me than answers, and I want them answered before I make an informed decision,” Gunter said, adding that he liked the concept.

Mayor Joe Coviello said he liked the all-of-the-above approach with more people expected to move to the north in the coming years.

“We have a lot of properties in the northwest that aren’t waterfront. There will be many people who can’t afford waterfront property but can afford a boat and trailer and they’ll need a place to go,” Coviello said. “I not only like D&D, I also like the Tropicana spot. We have a huge shortfall and we need to take that into consideration as a boating community.”

Council also discussed the rest of the property the city owns and potential to sell the surplus land.

In addition, council got an update on Festival Park. The city has purchased 428 of the 517 parcels, with 12 pending contracts, which is 83 percent of the land. The Parks Master Plan has identified the area as a top priority need.