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Tropicana design back on the table

By Staff | Mar 12, 2020

Cape Coral City Council will revisit the design plans for Tropicana Park on Monday.

City staff says it will proceed with the design the elected aboard approved Dec. 2 unless Council determines otherwise.

Those approved plans include a rowing component and staff also now recommends Council consider a use agreement similar to that granted program-providers in other city parks.

The issue was brought back by Councilmember John Gunter after city staffers met with the Cape Coral Rowing Club and the Northwest Neighborhood Association, which opposes the design, to find an alternative place for the water sport.

In a memo sent by City Manager John Szerlag, Parks and Rec Director Kerry Runyon and Senior Public Works Manager Michael llczyszyn, the city council was informed that staff plans to begin the design phase of all seven neighborhood parks, including Tropicana, after Monday’s meeting unless otherwise instructed.

Plans have been in abeyance while the city worked with residents who have taken issue with the design.

Members of the Northwest Neighborhood Association raised a variety of concerns related to the possibility of “locating non-motorized vessels in the park in two planned open green spaces” a use not on the original concept plans.

City council still found that Tropicana Park was the best location but the city also founded a stakeholder’s group to see if common ground could be reached on that location or an alternate site.

The effort failed.

A site adjacent to Tropicana Park along Old Burnt Store Road was considered. However, due to site constraints and a lack of space for kayaking, an agreement on moving these “non-motorized activities” out of the park was not reached.

“The alternate site did not allow for the space needed because there was erosion along the shoreline, which makes it unusable for the group,” Mayor Joe Coviello said. “It would be costly to make the property usable.”

The memo says staff seeks direction from the council on whether to proceed with the design that was part of the resolution adopted last year.

The memo also states that staff believes a land lease is no longer the best option for the Caloosa Coast Rowing Club in the park and will likely use a Priority Use Agreement (PUA) to program with the Parks and Recreation Department similar to those used in other parks with other programs.

The city will bring the PUA to council for consideration.

A PUA is a formal agreement entered into with a non-profit or other organization to provide a recreational service to the community on behalf of the city.

PUAs are entered into with organizations that offer programs to city parks, and exist for many of the youth athletic programs such as Cal Ripken baseball, Cape Coral Soccer Association, and Cape Junior football.

The Cape Coral R/Sea Hawks have priority use agreement for the use of the runway and the area surrounding the runway. A lease agreement also exists for the clubhouse at Seahawk Park.

“We have these agreements with other organizations that allow them to utilize the park land. I don’t think a lease is needed. A lease agreement is something I think is acceptable to all parties involved,” Coviello said.

Saundra Weston, a board member and coach with the Caloosa Coast Rowing Club, said the PUA option was considered when it appeared no other option was available.

“There was such an impediment to getting a land lease on many levels. In November, I asked if we can’t go priority use,” Weston said. “It doesn’t have the same terms as a lease, but it’s what the other 501c3s are doing. Also, the NWNA has said under no uncertain terms would they accept a land lease on any portion of park land.”

Weston said the PUA is not the same as a lease because it makes it harder for an organization to make longer term deals. She said most rowing clubs in the state use a land lease.

“Land leases give long-term security in the event of staffing changes. Vero Beach has a 25-year lease at a park. A PUA would make them less secure and less able to do fundraising and make improvements,” Weston said. “This came out of exasperation trying to come to terms with people who have been unreasonable for months.”

Councilmember Rick Williams said he wasn’t excited about the PUA, but that it seems the only way to get it through council.

“The NWNA is against the lease and the only way we can shut them up is with a use agreement like we have with Little League and Pop Warner,” Williams said. “I asked them if they wanted to shut down the Little League.”

Williams added that the club can’t get grant money to build a building without a secure lease and will attempt to convince council to pursue a lease agreement.

The NWNA continues to insist the problem is not with the rowing clubs, but with the way the city presented a new Tropicana Park concept different from what the association had agreed with.

“The Tropicana Park concept plans shown to the residents were not the concept plans the city intended to build. Plans to make Tropicana Park a watersports park for kayaking and rowing clubs have been in progress since 2005, but were not disclosed to the residents until it was too late for the residents to give public input.

“This issue is not about rowing, kayaking, or the NWNA. This is about truth in government and is a clear case of bait and switch,” said NWNA president John Bashaw in a statement.

There was a time, however, around 2010, when a watersports park where Tropicana Park sits was planned with the full blessing of the then northwest homeowners group that became the NWNA.

David Scott, who founded the organization, said there was a plan for Rotary to build the park when he was president, while also housing itself there during a time when the northwest Cape was more like “The Ponderosa.”

“The Rotary put up a lot of seed money to get the rowing club established and helped keep it going for six or seven years with grant money, recognizing the community service performed with those activities,” Scott said.

At the time, Rotary met in a building it did not own and it wanted its own place. They came up with a design that would house a rowing club and the three Rotary clubs in Cape Coral where Tropicana is now, Scott said.

“It went nowhere. We kicked it around a while and sometimes great ideas don’t take hold. There were no hard feelings. Rowing was new to the city and the facility in Sarasota wasn’t built yet. There were problems with the kitchen and it added a lot of complications,” Scott said. “If it comes under the wing of Parks & Recreation, it will do a lot for the city.”

Scott said he respects the decision of the current NWNA but adds he also is upset about how things went down with the South Florida Canoe & Kayak Club which shuttered at the end of the year as the controversy grew heated.

“I’m not proud of this neighborhood for what they did to Melinda Mack,” Scott said, adding the city and staff get it, but that there has been a lot of misinformation shared on social media.