Bonita Springs seeks more info about buying Everglades Wonder Gardens

Should the city of Bonita Springs purchase the Everglades Wonder Gardens?

See the results »

View previous polls »

Everglades Wonder Gardens

27180 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs, FL

The answer about whether the city of Bonita Springs will purchase the historic Everglades Wonder Gardens is still to come.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, the answer wasn’t yes, but it wasn’t no either. Council members told supporters to get organized and to bring back more information, including the asking price, and a business plan for how the city might acquire it and pay for its operations.

Councilman John Spear said the project should be treated like other unfunded capital projects. Others agreed.

About a year ago, the council told a group lobbying for the city’s purchase of an abandoned golf course and clubhouse in Bonita Springs Golf & Country Club neighborhood off Old 41 Road to bring back more details, including doable financial proposals.

Now, a group is looking to preserve the Wonder Gardens, which is up for sale, as a botanical garden.

Spear suggested the Wonder Gardens and golf course projects – and two other projects – be evaluated using the same process. The other proposed projects are to expand the city’s library, or build a new one, and to find a use for the so-called Mayhood property east of Old 41 Road on Terry Street.

Spear said it was “absurd” for the city to even think about trying to negotiate a purchase of Wonder Gardens when the selling price hasn’t been disclosed by the owners.

He described the city’s predicament this way: four popular ideas, no money (except from taxpayers).

He said if a project is good it always rises to the top, but bad ideas are always bad ideas, no matter what color lipstick you put on them.

Councilman William Lonkart pointed out that the city is still in debt for other projects and will pay $2.9 million annually toward that debt until 2021. He said he wants to be sure the council doesn’t burden taxpayers to benefit special groups, such as those pushing for a public purchase of Wonder Gardens or the golf course and country club.

Several supporters of the Wonder Gardens purchase spoke at the meeting, saying the landmark attraction should be preserved as a legacy for future generations.

David Piper, the owner of the business, is looking to sell the 3.5-acre property off Old 41 Road as his health worsens. The zoological attraction opened in 1936.

Piper hasn’t made his selling price public, saying only that it’s much higher than the assessed value, which is about $1.3 million.

“There is a price out there,” said Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson. “Whether the price is realistic I don’t know.”

Bonita Springs resident Dan Gawronski, a golf professional, said he sees an opportunity to build a learning/teaching center at the abandoned golf club targeted at kids, new adult players and seniors. He said he envisions short holes for the elderly that would allow them to play the game like they used to.

Gawronski’s proposed project could be self-supporting, not dependent on tax dollars for its operations, he told the council.

Golf course supporters are expected to come back to the council in March with a more detailed financial plan that would support a public purchase.

Some council members see a public purchase of Wonder Gardens as a last resort. “I believe there are other options to be explored,” said Councilman Stephen McIntosh. One of those, he said, may be for supporters to form a nonprofit to take over the property.

Mayor Nelson urged supporters of the Wonder Gardens and golf course projects to show the city how they can happen, and not to rely on the help of city staff.

“This council has a lot of other fish to fry,” he said. “It really does.”

When it comes to these projects, he said, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

“Please public,” he said, “go forth and come up with great ideas.”

After the meeting, Kathy McGrath, who has lived in Bonita Springs year-round for 27 years, said she favors the purchase of the Wonder Gardens, but thinks it’s only fair to evaluate it the same way as other capital projects.

“The bottom line is money,” she said. “We don’t expect the city to pay for it.”

Todd Michaels, owner of the Keystone Garden Center in Bonita Springs, agreed with the council’s recommendation.

“I think everybody should come to the table with a business plan,” he said.

He said local business owners can come together quickly to create a plan for Wonder Gardens, including estimating cash flows, expenses, returns and the value of its assets.

He said acquiring the Wonder Gardens – and keeping it open as a botanical garden – would fit hand-in-hand with the redevelopment plans for downtown Bonita.

“You have to show your numbers,” Michaels said. “Numbers don’t lie.”

Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features