Not sunk yet: Swim center proposal at City of Palms gets new life

The National Swimming Center Corp. will have 30 more days to prove to Lee County Commissioners that their pool complex is the best replacement for the former Boston Red Sox spring training stadium.

County staff had recommended the board put an end to negotiations that have been under way for about a year.

But a new proposal presented just days ago has some of the commissioners willing to give the organization more time – a little more.

It’s time for National Swimming Center to “paint or get off the ladder,” said Commission Chairman Frank Mann.

In May, the county, the swim center and the city of Fort Myers began a 120-day due diligence period to hash out proposals for creating a pool complex at City of Palms Park.

The Boston Red Sox will be moving to its new training center on Daniels Parkway for the 2012 season.

The swim center was the only group to respond to the county’s request for proposals.

But a plan that emerged in August increased the county’s commitment by $7 million. The county determined the proposal was not in line with the county’s needs.

A revised plan was submitted in the past few days that eliminates any cost to the county for the first of three phases – five outdoor pools costing about $18 million.

The swim center has about $25 million on hand from investors, said John Albion, a consultant representing the swim organization.

The other phases would be considered if the first was a success. There are already 16 letters of interest from organizations that want to hold events there, Albion said, that could bring in more for the community than Spring Training.

“It provides everything we have been looking for,” said Commissioner Ray Judah.

The board agreed that the organization’s latest effort was deserving of consideration. They voted 4-1 to allow staff to review the new details.

Commissioner Tammy Hall, while supportive of giving the swim center more time, opposed the fact that by granting the extension the county would be restricting any other groups from submitting proposals.

The swim center is confident the county can review the new plan in the given window.

“The new proposal is in and all that’s left is for the county to take 30 days to review it,” said John Albion, a consultant representing the swim organization. “We think that’s plenty of time.”

In other news, the Commission moved ahead with plans to demolish Seafarers’ Village on Fort Myers Beach against the wishes of the town officials.

The town is in negotiations to buy the land from the county and Fort Myers Beach officials had hoped they could take over the property’s future.

Fort Myers Beach proposed immediately to begin its own efforts to demolish the vacant center if the county would stop its plans and hand over ownership to the town.

“We want to be in control,” said Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker, “not just conveniently heard.”

But the commissioners were convinced that the project should continue under county control.

“I’m not supportive of donating any property to any municipality,” Hall said. “We are the regional arm. Having these properties in a regional inventory, I think, is what’s best.”

The board voted 4-1 to move forward with demolition, with Commissioner Brian Bigelow dissenting.

He said he was concerned about a continued tug-of-war with cities.

Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

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