By DREW WINCHESTER
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz is helping to champion a convention and entertainment center project he hopes will be built on the Academic Village property in north Cape Coral, a one-time site of the highly controversial swim center.
That project spun its wheels in the city amid intense scrutiny from the public and elected officials, including Chulakes-Leetz, but is now being eyed for City of Palms Park.
This new project would include a swim component, Chulakes-Leetz said, but would be more of an all-encompassing entertainment center with a 17,000-seat arena.
"The swim center was focused on swimming, this is focused on all aspects of the entertainment business. That could mean sports, or anything that one could imagine indoors or out," he said.
The most important part of the project, Chulakes-Leetz added, is that it would be a citizen initiative that would voted on through referendum. The city would bond the project and build it, he said, but it would be managed by private company with the city holding ownership of the building.
A video Chulakes-Leetz had made and was featured in during the swim center's tenure showed him traversing the Academic Village Property and asking the public what they wanted done with the property.
This current project was the answer, he said.
Although he previously called the Academic Village property a "pristine wetlands" that might one day be used for an ecological park that featured ziplines, he said he doesn't feel that way anymore.
"It's basically swamp," Chulakes-Leetz said. "We need to utilize what's available where we can."
The project is the brainchild of Martin Brady, a retired Philadelphia fire fighter who was in favor of building the swim center.
Now that that opportunity is gone, Brady said he still wants to bring a similar project to the city, one that could also serve as a safety shelter in times of hurricanes.
Brady said no swim component is planned at this time, but instead wants a 600,000-square-foot building that could serve to host any number of events.
"We want federal money and state money for the construction," Brady said. "It will bring hotels, restaurants and jobs. That's what the city needs."
Brady, along with other residents and the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, are working together to move the project forward.
They're circulating a petition for citizen support and plan on meeting again in the coming weeks.
Brady said he plans on seeking the input and support of neighborhood groups and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce.
"There's nothing here for the people," Brady said. "And I want to help bring jobs to the city."