Developer meets with community leaders to clear the air on hotel project

Veterans Community Park hotel developer seeks to stop rumors

Lisa Conley; 239-213-5308

A small group of community leaders, business owners and other Marco Island residents met with the developer of the proposed Veterans Community Park hotel project Wednesday night at CJs on the Bay.

Land use attorney Patrick Neale presents the proposed Veterans Community Park hotel project to a small group of community leaders, business owners and other Marco Island residents at CJs on the Bay on Aug. 31. Neale will present the project to the Planning Board today at 9 a.m. in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

Land use attorney Patrick Neale – who’s helping present the project to the Planning Board today – said the purpose of the meeting was to address any misconceptions about the project and encourage folks to show their support for the project by attending today’s Planning Board meeting.

“We just wanted to get the message out there to make sure that people know what’s actually going on,” he said, “because there’s been a lot of misinformation and rumors.”

One of the biggest rumors is that the project is going to cost the city money because documents submitted to the Planning Board show the city giving the developer $1 million; however, the $1 million is simply a loan, Neale said.

The total cost of the proposed improvements to the park is approximately $3.2 million, he said. The city will loan the developer $250,000 a year for four years - totaling $1 million - to help mitigate that cost, he explained, but at the fifth year - once the hotel is open and making money - the developer will begin paying the city back.

Despite concerns, proposed hotel not expected to cost taxpayers

"It's a little bit complex with some back and forthing [sic]," Neale said in a previous interview, "but at the end of the day the city will be out no money at all," aside from the $250,000 it's already allocated to the park in its fiscal year 2017 budget.

Another concern that Marco Island residents have voiced is that the development of the park will take away green space, but that, too, is untrue, Neale said; in fact, the amount of green space will actually increase.

Part of the development plan includes creating parking around the park’s perimeter and subsequently removing approximately two thirds of the existing parking lot, which will in turn increase the green space by approximately 14 percent, Neale said.

Neale also emphasized that the parking will be public parking because the hotel will have three levels of above ground, self-contained parking for its guests and employees. Residents at the informal gathering were in agreement that the creation of at least 165 parking spots is one of the project’s greatest assets.

“The biggest plus is that it adds more parking,” one resident said, “because we desperately need it.”

The development of the park also won’t interfere with the Farmers’ Market, Neale said, which is yet another concern residents have expressed.

“We’re actually going to make the Farmers’ Market nicer,” he said, by adding walkways and building permanent restroom facilities on the property.

Veterans Community Park has been a prominent item of discussion since the end of summer when a hotel developer proposed to develop the park in exchange for the park's density/intensity credits. Here Marco Island residents review renderings of the Veterans Community Park hotel project during an informal gathering at CJs on the Bay on Aug. 31.

Despite all of the project’s positives, Neale said, there are still a lot of naysayers who will no doubt show up this morning in full force. Bruce Lampitt, director of design and development for Small Brothers, LLC, said he doesn’t know what to expect at the meeting.

“We’ve heard good things and we’ve heard bad things,” Lampitt said. “We just hope that the city will approve it because we believe it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Today’s Planning Board meeting is just the first step of the approval process: if the Planning Board recommends the project, it will go before the City Council for its approval; if the Planning Board doesn’t recommend the project, it will still go before the City Council but with a lot less clout, Neale said, so the Planning Board’s approval is crucial.

And since today’s hearing is focused exclusively on the project’s zoning, Neale said, the approval process will have to be repeated for the actual site development plan, and because the timeline for the project is tight, any delays in the process would be extremely detrimental.

“One of our big fears is that the City Council will postpone [the project] until after the election,” Neale said.

But if all goes according to plan, he said, the hotel is scheduled to open in 2018 and the park will be completed by November 2018 at the latest, although the current goal is November 2017.

The Planning Board meeting is at 9 a.m. in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.