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Pursue aquatics project aggressively

May 16, 2009
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

After years of effort, the city of Cape Coral has a major economic development project on the table.

The National Swimming Center Corporation has proposed a $30 million sports development project the nonprofit envisions could be built on the city-owned Academic Village site in the north Cape.

The development would be anchored by a "premier aquatics center" for collegiate, national and international swimming competitions. The "Concourse at Cape Coral" would then be enhanced with tennis and volleyball events on a similar scale, and capped with related development to include a 300-room hotel and conference center. As added incentive long-range, a commercial component to include a business and educational element for undergraduate and graduate studies and possibly a business "incubator" is proposed.

It's an interesting project and one well worth pursuing. Kudos to the city and especially to Councilmember Dolores Bertolini for bringing this proposal home.

To make the project a reality, NSCC proposes several things:

- That the city and organization jointly fund a $100,000 feasibility study.

- That the city agree to modify its Academic Village concept for the 180-acre site at Kismet and Del Prado Boulevard to the Concourse at Cape Coral proposal. NSCC proposes to become the project manager, in conjunction with the city, to develop individual packages for the various phases and components of the project

As tendered, NSCC also is asking for an incentives package: $5 million from Cape Coral and $10 million from Lee County to help fund the aquatics center along with assistance from both to help NSCC obtain, from state and federal sources, the remainder of the $30 million. In addition, the city is asked to donate the land, provide $1-a-year 99-year lease or some combination of the two to allow NSCC to build on the Academic Village site.

That's a tidy price tag but one that should not be discounted out of hand.

According to numbers developed by the Lee County Sports Authority - which has been pursuing this type project for years - and USA Swimming, the annual economic impact on the area would be $21,459,496 if only a dozen major events were held at the center yearly. Add in indirect impacts and the number climbs to $35,837,356 with $358,783 in additional bed tax revenue and $1,287,568 in additional sales tax funds bumping the total.

We suggest a couple of things.

First, fund the feasibility study using money from the city's economic development coffers. That's what the money is there for.

If the project proves viable, if the site works and the numbers ring true, embark on negotiations with NSCC in conjunction with continued due diligence.

Then, if the project continues to look as good as proponents tout, get ready to tap the revenue sources already earmarked for these types of projects.

On the city level, that's money allocated to the city's economic development efforts. If the aquatics center proves to be a bird-in-the-hand project, put all of these resources here and bring the prize home.

As for the county and its we-don't-know-where-the-money-will-come-from naysayers, draw from the same well that has proven to be near bottomless for sports-related projects for the south county area. This is exactly the type of project for which bed tax money and other tourism development funding sources are intended.

Pursue this one aggressively. It may be the big one the Cape has been hoping for. It also would be a boon for all of Lee County.

- Breeze editorial



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