FORT MYERS, Fla.--The Board of Lee County Commissioners will proceed into contract negotiations with National Swimming Center Corporation, the group hoping to convert City of Palms Park into a world class aquatic center.
But even after the 4-to-1 vote Tuesday, it's clear the proposal to give new life to the former Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox is still not a home run.
"I am a long way from being sold on this," Commission Chair Frank Mann explained to those in attendance at Tuesday's commission meeting.
He voted in favor of moving forward with negotiations, but he and his colleagues also voiced their concerns. A major point of contention was ensuring Lee County taxpayers would not be stuck paying a penny for the proposed swim center.
"Do not miscalculate my support today as a commitment to sign off on a contract," Mann emphasized.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow was the lone dissenter. At the recommendation of Lee County Clerk of Courts Charlie Green, commissioners want the National Swimming Center Corporation to put $25 million in escrow to guarantee taxpayers aren't on the hook for the funding.
Former County Commissioner and current spokesman for the National Swimming Center Corporation John Albion stressed taxpayers would not bear the burden of the project while holding up a prop-- a piece of bubble gum.
"A piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum is 8.5 cents" Albion explained. "That's more money than what National Swim Center Corporation is asking the citizens of of Lee County or its visitors to put into the conversion and running of this operation."
The negotiations are expected to be lengthy and heated, but Brandon Drawz with the National Swimming Center Corporation says they're ready to start ironing out the details.
"We're going to all sit at the table and figure out how to make this hopefully work and give the county whatever they need to feel comfortable with this."
The Board agreed this will be the final contract negotiation.