While Cape Coral City Council founders in its discussion on the so-called "swim center" proposal, a groundswell of support is coming from a diverse range of residents.
After Councilmember Bill Deile told project supporters that "the issue here is money" and challenged members of the business community to come up with funding options for The Concourse at Cape Coral, various suggestions to fund the incentives portion of the proposed multi-phase athletic complex for national and international swim competitions were sent back via e-mail.
Those suggestions included partnership with Lee County, which has said it will pick up the project if it falters in the Cape; creation of a Community Redevelopment Agency for the property; state funds obtained with county help; and revenue bonds.
We agree the issue is money.
But it's also how much, from where, and the expected return, and it is here that council should be devoting its discussions.
The National Swimming Center Corporation has asked for quite a lot - that the city not only, as previously discussed, provide the site and $5 million cash, but also commit an estimated $22 million in site improvements. The entity also wants $10 million from Lee County.
Twenty-plus million from the city is certainly a chunk of change but what critics on council fail to share when they bring up the money bugaboo is that that figure is subject to negotiation and that staff has already shaved the estimated $22 million in infrastructure costs down to about $8 million - and has found the money to boot by suggesting shifting funds from other capital improvement projects.
What also is not shared by the number shakers is the estimated return to the city. The Concourse at Cape Coral, which is to include competitive-standard Olympic swimming pools, stadium seating for up to 10,000 spectators, a national swimming hall of fame, a 20-court competitive tennis facility, and all of the related retail and business amenities carries with it an estimated annual economic impact of $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.
These are big numbers as well, especially in a community where the housing bust has resulted in some of the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates in the country.
We suggest a couple of things.
First, we suggest that council turn the rhetorical "where are we going to get the money?" into a directive. City staff has already stepped up to that challenge and county officials, who have been involved in economic development negotiations at an even higher level than this, have said they are willing to lend the expertise available through The Lee County Sports Authority and Economic Development Office to the project.
Tap these resources. Cape taxpayers contribute heavily to these entities and deserve access to the professional services that have so benefited the city of Fort Myers and much of south county.
Next, that council listen to the residents and taxpayers who, after all, will either be footing the bill or watching the project slide across the river.
Grassroots support for the project is growing, and it's not just coming from the business community.
Youth groups and coaches have stepped forward to attest to the popularity and financial prospects associated with the type of world class facility being discussed, and a citizen petition drive is under way.
The petition, being circulated by Cindy McKay (who can be reached at email@example.com ,) asks council to consider the positive aspects of the project - increased private/public partnerships; a broadened revenue base, an increased commercial tax base, "positive visibility" - and jobs.
Council should absolutely consider these things. Only then can the board decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Lastly, we urge Cape residents and taxpayers to let council know what you think. It's your money and whether the swim center is a go or a no, it's the residents and taxpayers who will pay the price.
- Breeze editorial