LEE COUNTY — When John Albion presented the cost of the National Swimming Center Corporation’s proposal to transform City of Palms Park from a baseball field to an aquatic center, he pulled out an 8-cent piece of bubblegum to show to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.
“This gum costs more than what we’re asking of Lee County,” Albion told the board.
The board of commissioners voted Tuesday to continue negotiations with the Austin, Texas-based National Swimming Center Corporation with the administrative agenda item passing 4-1. Commissioner Brian Bigelow dissented.
For more than a year, the swimming center and the county have gone back and forth between proposals with the most recent incarnation stating the private company will pay for the entire $18.2 million renovation of the former Red Sox spring training stadium. The company has stated it has $25 million in the bank to begin the first of what would be a three-phase project transforming the ball park’s fields into five pools.
“Our company has proved that is has the resources and ability and passion to do this project,” Executive Director John McIlhargy told the board.
Four of the five commissioners agreed a top concern for the project is funding. Commissioner Tammy Hall noted that once negotiations begin between the county and the National Swimming Center, commissioners and county staff will be able to see documentation of the financial feasibility of the project.
“I don’t have an issue moving forward with contract negotiations,” Hall said. “That’s when the rubber will hit the road … All we talk about is ‘what if’s,’ but today I want the documents and I want to go through it.”
During public comment, Clerk of Courts Charlie Green recommended to staff that, if they were to move forward with the swim center, to put the $25 million the corporation claims to have in financial backing in a bank account in escrow.
“If they raised that much money, great,” he said. “If not, they can get it back.”