MARCO ISLAND — The city’s recreation hub could be getting a new centerpiece. On Tuesday, Marco Island City Council considered improving Mackle Park by adding a nearly 40,000-square-foot community center with a $6 million price tag. That decision came during its afternoon workshop where council endorsed by consensus a review for funding the project.
Bryan Milk, director of Parks and Recreation, unveiled an architectural rendering to replace the park’s current 8,000-square foot community building. The new facility would be a 2-story center, nearly five times larger, and would be built where the existing structure stands.
The new floor plan would include a 13,500-square-foot enclosed gymnasium, indoor track, technology room and specialty/teaching kitchen. Its multi-purpose space could be used or leased for banquets, wedding receptions, community programs and adult education.
Conceptually, a new community center was part of Mackle Park’s Master Plan presented to city council in 2005. In that plan, necessary and esthetic improvements to the park’s buildings and grounds were scheduled to take place over several phases and a number of years. To date, the city has spent $2 million on overall improvements.
Of the $2 million spent on park improvements, $30,000 was invested in necessary upgrades to the existing building. Yet the 25-year-old facility failed to meet FEMA flood standards, building codes and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requirements, said Milk.
By constructing an entirely new facility, those failures would go away, he said.
City councilors reviewed a public-private partnership proposal by Mills Gilbane Building Company. The company would design and construct the new center with a lease-back option to the city of $600,000 per year for 12-years.
At the end of the 12 years, the city would take over ownership of the center at no additional cost.
If funding for the project came directly from additional taxes, Milk said, cost on an assessed $500,000 home would be approximately $38. Without additional taxes, re-appropriating existing funds or obtaining gifts and grants would be necessary.
Terri DiSciullo, president of the Island Parks and Recreation Foundation, said her group had raised more than $20,000 to sponsor the specialty/teaching kitchen. The group also approached the Rachael Ray Foundation for a grant to supply kitchen equipment such as pots and pans.
A public-private partnership would jumpstart the community center project, said Gordon Glover of Mills Gilbane Building Company. Benefits from the private entity would include one scope for the work and a single point of responsibility. The development partner would be “on the hook” to make sure the project came to fruition. No bonds would need to be issued, and construction could be tailored to the city’s needs, he said.
Milk explained that moving on the project aggressively would allow council to take advantage of lower construction costs and interest rates. He also saw the new community center as a way to address lack of space for programs in the existing building.
“Construction costs are at an all-time low of $160 per square foot compared to $250 per square foot in years past,” Milk said.
The 2005 Master Plan estimated the project at $11 million, nearly double the $6 million requested. Cost reductions came from lower construction costs and falling interest rates. The city’s finance department calculated an effective interest rate of 2.925 percent for the project.
Council generally liked the plan but said it needed more time to investigate public referendum, legal ramifications of the contracting process, funding options and post construction costs.
Re-appropriation of $600,000 out of the general fund for 12 years would require a referendum, said Councilor Bill Trotter. At issue, he said, was the project’s multi-year commitment that may require referendum.
“It’s disingenuous that we spend gazillions on other projects without referendum, and it’s curious we want this one to go to referendum,” said Chairman Frank Recker. “This is good for everyone.”
Trotter said he believed that regardless of requirement, a referendum would give council a better idea of public sentiment.
“If the need is there, why not go for a referendum?” he asked. “Let the citizens decide. Or perhaps Veteran’s (Community) Park is a higher priority in the public’s opinion.”
Additionally, council worried about entering into a contract with Mills Gilbane Building Company without putting the project out for bid.
Councilor Chuck Kiester asked Milk if he had a business plan including costs incurred post construction such as maintenance and staffing.
Milk conceded that additional staffing would be required but suggested that enterprise funds could be raised through programming and new activities in the center. As examples, he said, the racquet center is in the black by $6,000 this year, and the Farmers’ Market brought in $75,000 yearly in revenues for the city.
Public comments cautioned council to tread carefully when considering more debt.
“We’re sitting in a precarious situation financially and we can’t afford a project like this at this time,” said Bob Brown of West Joy Circle. “People are having a difficult time meeting their financial obligations so it (the community center) will be hard for people to swallow.”
Brown said residents face impact fees and impending expenses from the Septic Tank Replacement Program and replacement of failing seawalls. The city, Brown said, is facing necessary infrastructure repairs, over $250 million in bond debt and a police pension fund that is $4 million underfunded.