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No harm in talking

March 19, 2011
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The proposed conversion of City of Palms Park to a multi-use swim center is back on deck. Officials with the National Swimming Center Corporation have put together a new proposal complete with funding assurances they say answer concerns expressed by Lee County officials last go-around.

The new bid calls for the county to fund a $40 million conversion of the old baseball stadium into a combination swim center/convention center complex suitable for year-round swimming and sports competitions as well as conventions and meetings to help supplement the revenue stream.

The county would fund the facility with bonds to be re-paid over 30 years via a long-term operations/management lease to be paid by the National Swimming Center Corporation, which says it will use profits from the events and credits for bed tax revenues that can be tied directly to hotel and motel rooms filled by event and convention attendees to fulfill its obligation.

The Texas-based management firm also proposes to pay all operational and maintenance costs during the lease period.

Corporation officials making their pitch in one-on-one meetings with county commissioners and others this week say their proposal is win-win for all parties, including the city of Fort Myers, as the county will convert an empty liability costing taxpayers countywide an estimated $1.4 million per year into a viable complex whose economic impact will surpass that of Spring Training.

They are asking that the county now appoint a negotiation committee to hammer out the details of a workable arrangement.

We have no problem with entering into negotiations as discussions of this type are exactly why taxpayers fund economic development offices and sports authorities.

However, it is unlikely such talks will get off the starting block unless the first heat has more to offer on the part of those who want to set up the meet.

As now proposed, the county - i.e. the county's taxpayers - would bear all of the risk in what is being characterized by the NSCC as a "joint venture."

Previous proposals, both to the city of Cape Coral - which nixed the idea before it even entered the due diligence stage - and Lee County - which took a previous proposal to the actual numbers stage before giving it a pass - had the corporation contributing cash, a significant amount of cash, to the venture.

As well it should.

It is our guess - and our recommendation - that the NSCC be required to supplement its financial projections with some fiscal guarantees so as to give the county time to find another management firm to operate what we agree would be a stellar facility should the organization find itself unable to fulfill its obligations.

Substantive funds put aside in case of a payment default or a significant performance bond requirement are two possible options.

A spokesperson for the National Swimming Center Corporation said Friday that such a request could, in fact, be considered within the negotiation process, which, at this point, is all those officials have asked for.

Well enough.

As we have stated the last two go-arounds on this project, it makes sense to move it to the discussion stage as the economic benefits could be great.

But it also makes sense to proceed with caution. This project's feasibility comes down to more than just numbers - it comes down to verifiable, guaranteed numbers on the right side of Lee County's ledger books.

- Breeze editorial



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