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Move swim center proposal forward

April 24, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

On Monday, the Cape Coral City Council is expected to hold its long-awaited discussion on the multi-phase competitive swim center proposed for construction in northwest Cape Coral through a public-private partnership.

Cape Coral city staff will present collected information for council consideration, including a recommendation on possible sources for the "public" side of the funding equation.

The debate promises to be hot and, at least on the citizen side, probably contentious. Residents in favor and those against are planning to turn out en masse with petitions, speeches, and dress-for-success garb - blue tees for support, black for the big thumbs down.

While the public interest is certainly gratifying, there is some misinformation out there. Certainly council can kill the project that proposes the construction of a facility with 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.

A yes vote on Monday, however, would not mean the city would need to cut an immediate seven-figure check. Nor would it mean that Cape taxpayers and any funds supplied in the future would be unprotected.

What is sought Monday is approval of a "memorandum of understanding." That council authorization would open formal negotiations with the National Swimming Center Corporation, the entity seeking city support to build The Concourse at Cape Coral with the goal of attracting collegiate, national and international swimming competitions to Lee County. The memorandum, basically a negotiations starting point, would lay the groundwork for proposed parameters, terms and conditions, timelines and funding obligations for both sides.

Council should authorize that memorandum and instruct staff to pursue this project aggressively with an eye to making the numbers work.

For those who say "we can't afford it" before we even try, understand, the cost of doing nothing is simply too high.

Consider: 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.

For those who doubt the positive impact of sports, we suggest they look to neighboring Charlotte County which this week released the economic impact numbers associated with their most recent event.

According to the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau, which released Thursday data for the second annual Snowbird Baseball Classic held Feb. 28 to March 20, this single collegiate tournament generated an estimated $3.1 million in direct expenditures as a result of 3,243 out-of-state participants, spectators and media reps who stayed an average of seven nights in area accommodations.

In one year alone, this reflects an increase of 25 percent in direct expenditures and an increase of 34 percent in visitors, officials said.

These visitors generated an estimated $188,094 in state sales tax revenue, $31,349 in local tax revenue and $43,724 in tourist development tax revenue, the release from the visitor's bureau states, adding commitments already in hand for next year mean the event has "tremendous growth potential."

"Sporting events provide a positive economic boost to area businesses and they validate our area as a prospective venue for future tournaments and events," said Becky Bovell, director of the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau in the prepared statement. "Teams participating in these tournaments utilize hotels, restaurants and enjoy area attractions during downtime. We also find many tournament participants return as vacationers with their families."

We agree with that analysis. Economic benefit is the primary argument made by those who are urging the Cape Coral City Council to continue efforts to give the Cape a venue to play host to not only competitive swimming but also volleyball and tennis events on a national - and international - scale.

And those urging support are a pretty hefty bunch, both in terms of quantity and informed quality.

If petitions, polls, e-mails, letters and public comment count, the Concourse at Cape Coral has strong support in the community, stronger support than this city has seen for any proposal in years. The public understands the potential positives of a venue such as the proposed sports complex.

The Cape's business community is unified on the issue, and various professional organizations are urging council to move forward. Business leaders see the very real economic impact aspect.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Gary Aubuchon is actively seeking funding at the state level to help the Cape in its quest to garner what some are calling a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Officials at the county level, who have announced their intent to pick up the ball should council fumble in sight of the end zone, stand ready to aid in negotiations should the city continue toward the goal. Area officials see a regional benefit and are offering assistance to help make the numbers work to bring the project to fruition.

City council needs to get on board.

Approve a well-drafted memorandum of understanding. Open and expedite negotiations. Move the project - and the Cape - forward.

- Breeze editorial



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