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Gather, evaluate, the facts

April 10, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

A few weeks ago, we urged Cape Coral residents to let Cape Coral City Council members know their thoughts on the multi-million dollar competitive swim center proposed for construction on city-owned property in north Cape Coral.

The previous city council supported pursuing the project touted as a once-in-a-lifetime economic development coup on par with the Red Sox stadium deal under way in south county.

The current city council, though, is split with an apparent majority now opposed to further talks or exploration of the "The Concourse at Cape Coral," a proposed public-private partnership to build a facility comprised of 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.

Input from the community is, in fact, pouring in. One resident, Cindy McKay, is circulating a petition in support of the project. Ms. McKay hopes her drive will garner 10,000 signatures which she plans to present to council when it next meets on the subject on April 26. She has provided her name and an e-mail address, , for those who agree the city should continue to explore the possibility of the project being built in Cape Coral.

Members of the city's business community, under the loose auspices of the Council For Progress, have urged an e-mail campaign to Cape council members, also in support of the swim center.

And more recently, another group has begun a counter campaign to urge officials to reject a project critics say the Cape cannot afford.

This is all to the good. Our new board majority committed, to the person, to two things: To be more responsive to public input and to more fact finding before decisions are made, two factors this council has said were ignored by previous boards when major decisions were made.

And make no mistake, this is a major decision, one that is crucial to the city's future either way.

The estimated annual economic impact of the project is $21,459,496 if only a dozen major events per year were to be scheduled at the Concourse.

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.

As we stated previously, these are big numbers and they do not include jobs created during the construction phases nor do they include on-going employment in the job-starved Cape.

Public-private partnerships don't come free, however, and in this case the public contribution is estimated at $5 million cash from the city, $8 million in site and infrastructure improvements (down from the $22 million first estimated by the developer), and $10 million in cash from Lee County. The city also is being asked to provide the site on which the facility would be built, either outright via donation or indirectly through a long-term, minimal payment land lease.

It is these costs that are a primary issue among those who do not support the center.

It's a legitimate concern but should not be a deal-breaker, at least not until the city has attempted to one, find the money, and two, entered into concerted negotiations to see where the real numbers end up. That's part of fact-finding, and city officials have done neither, although both are being explored across the river where Lee County has already vetted the project and officials have said they will actively pursue it should the Cape take a pass.

We urge council to continue gathering information, and we urge the public to continue providing input.

We do have one caveat for both, however.

Proponents of the project have put their names on their petitions, e-mail campaigns and support. The Breeze, in the box above all editorials, and at the top of all staff-written stories, always identifies those responsible for the content. "Official" fact-finding also comes with names and sources.

Judging from at least one flyer fraught with, shall we say, interesting political rhetoric, opponents are not opting for the same in-the-sunshine approach. "Shadow campaigns," be they election or issue related, bother us and should be discounted out of hand along with speculation, rumor and innuendo.

We urge the public - and our elected officials - to weigh the swim center on its merits, the facts and the projections -and who is making them. This issue is far too important to the city's future to boil it down to slogans, protest signs and sourceless death-and-doom literature that is long on opinion and short on fact and verification.

Meanwhile, we're sure a majority of the public would like to see solid presentations scheduled for council's April 26 meeting, and we urge council to have the best information available brought forward.

Instruct city staff to come prepared and also reach out to Lee County. Ask officials there to share their information and research concerning the project, the organization, and developer proposing to come into Lee County - elsewhere, if not the Cape. Good information is available, council just needs to ask for it.

We suggest they do so. A commitment to fact finding should be the easiest of campaign promises to keep.

- Breeze editorial



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