LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Will City of Palms park become a 'white elephant'? Or will the rejection of a swim center at the park lead to new opportunities to market the place for sports and other activities? Those questions face Lee Co. leaders and taxpayers, faced with the prospect of a stadium, less than 20 years old, that will sit mostly empty soon.
"I believe it is a heart-breaker. We need some major tenant to replace the Boston Red Sox and bring income to the Downtown Ft. Myers businesses," said Bonnie Grunberg, owner of the Oasis Restaurant near the stadium. "March always was our biggest month and it really helped to have spring training. Then, we got excited about the swim center. Now that hope is gone. It's going to be tough and it is going to affect my bottom line, and the profits of others downtown."
The Red Sox are leaving City of Palms after March, 2011, in favor of a new stadium off Daniels Parkway, north of the international airport. Plans for a possible swim center at the park were rejected Wednesday by Lee county administrators, because the proposed operator of the facility did not provide financial information or make a money commitment to build the aquatic center.
It means Lee will pay about 1-million dollars a year to maintain the park, and 5 practice fields used by the Red Sox, a few miles away. The team will abandon the 5 fields when the new stadium opens in March, 2012.
Lee administrators are playing up efforts to attract more amateur baseball tournaments to the stadium, on the south edge of downtown Ft. Myers. One event, called Perfect Game, brought about 7-thousand young baseball players to town this summer. Those young people, along with coaches and often parents, stayed in local hotels, ate in restaurants, and spent money in the area on leisure-time activities. The staff will try to market City of Palms for virtually any type of event that will fit the venue - including concerts. Administrators also will pursue any major league baseball team, that might be looking for a new location for spring training.
"It is not a crisis right now, because we don't owe money on the stadium," said Commissioner Frank Mann. "We will keep working on options and we will find some activities for the park. It will take some study and lots of work, however."