A year after scrapping a plan to build a controversial 1,700-seat auditorium, Cape Christian Fellowship continues its efforts to bring the community together.
The church on Thursday unveiled and broke ground on a new plan; a 100,000- square-foot park that will include a splash pad, a gourmet cafe, multiple playgrounds, sports fields, a jogging track and covered pavilions.
There also will be a medical clinic and counseling center that will offer integrated health services for the underinsured and uninsured.
All this for a small fraction of what the auditorium would cost.
"We have gotten through all the permitting and approval process, we've raised the money and we've begun construction to finish the park," said Pastor Chad Woolf. "We want to let people know when this will happen."
Many of the city's dignitaries were on hand to witness the symbolic groundbreaking (since it was too wet to stick shovels in the mud) at the church.
The hope is that the project, expected to cost no more than $2 million, will be completed within four to five months.
The park, at the church's address at 2110 Chiquita Blvd. S., will be open for public use and funded, maintained, owned and operated by the church.
It's a far cry from the original plan to spend $12 million on an outdoor amphitheatre, which neighbors and community leaders complained could be a noise and traffic issue in the city.
Woolf said once the community spoke, they knew they needed a better, friendlier plan.
"This park is not meant to be a symbol of division but rather something for our community," Woolf said. "So, we removed it from our plans and didn't bring it to city council for a vote. We focused on the elements the community can get behind."
Founding pastor Dennis Gingerich displayed the original groundbreaking shovel from when the church was built in 1999 as a symbol for what can be done through hard work and prayer.
"We believe this next phase is something that is a blessing to be involved in the community and to give back to our community," Gingerich said. "We've tried over the past 27 years to do that, individually and as a church."
Lead Pastor Wes Furlong and Cape Coral Councilmember Lenny Nesta also spoke during the brief ceremony.
"This is an awesome event, and it's all paid for by the church. The city didn't put one dime into this," Nesta said. "The amphitheatre was a big concern, but with the church staff and citizens, we worked out a compromise and moving forward with it."
"We've been pushed back by the rain, but everything is ready to go," Furlong said. "The auditorium would be used for three hours on a Sunday, now the property will be used every day."
Fellowship Park is part of a larger expansion campaign.
In conjunction with the opening of the park, the church is also expanding its Not In My City Campaign by opening an integrated primary care and mental health clinic for those who are working and uninsured or underinsured.
The church has doubled its membership over the past five years, to about 2,000. The congregation raised roughly $1.5 million dollars to fund the park.
"We believe the needs of our community are as important as the needs of our church, so we want to invest in the community as much as in the church," Woolf said.
For more information, visit www.capechristian.com or call 239-772-5683.