Time To Clear The Air About Bay Oaks

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On January 11th the Fort Myers Beach Town Council will hold a joint meeting with members of its Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board. At issue is whether the town will spend approximately $5.5 million on a new Bay Oaks facility or $15 to $20 million. Here’s what got us to this point.

The committee, after being told to “think big” by Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, put together a plan to redevelop Bay Oaks that included new buildings, ball fields, a covered amphitheatre, a gym, office and meeting space and other upgrades that would have cost anywhere between $15 and $20 million.

From the $10 million the town is borrowing for its three major projects (Bay Oaks, Times Square and Bayside Park) the town has set aside about $5.5 million for the redevelopment of Bay Oaks. And, that’s where the project went off the rails.

Hernstadt took the committee’s original “think big” plan and squeezed it into a $5.5 million budget and went right to the town council with it, bypassing any input from the committee. The new design was one 13,000 square foot building with an attached stage. When the committee got back together members labeled the downsized design as “half-assed.” They were also quite unhappy about being cut out of the loop by Hernstadt after working on all the details of the plan for two years.

Earlier this week at a BORCAB meeting Hernstadt told the committee he wasn’t going to get into a philosophical or political discussion with them. “It’s simple. Deal with the budget.” To be fair to the committee, they were never really told what the actual budget was. They were also never given an opportunity to meet with the designer and told, here’s what we can build based on this amount of money, ‘what would you like?’

That brings us to the town council meeting yesterday.

Hernstadt played down the angst the committee has toward their ideas being discarded so easily. He told the council this was all about whether the stage should be attached to the building (as its being presented in the $5.5 million plan) or a standalone stage structure (which is part of the committee’s ‘think big’ plan).

Early this week, and for the second meeting in a row, the committee wanted to be clear that there has been no transparency in this process and they did not want compromise. They want the long range plan to redevelop Bay Oaks based on the bigger plan they came up with. Councilman Dan Allers told his fellow council members: ” BORCAB has drawn a line in the sand. Be forewarned, they want it all. That’s my take.”

Councilman Jim Atterholt said the council owes the committee an apology. “It would have been helpful if they (town staff) consulted with BORCAB before we digested this proposal. The vision from BORCAB was lost.”

Atterholt called for a joint meeting between the committee and the council. Mayor Ray Murphy agreed. “The committee did what they were asked to do.”

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros pushed back. She likes the current, smaller plan as presented and said the town is not making progress by delaying a decision on moving forward. “We use the words think big a lot. Some people thought that meant they were going to get everything they wanted. I’d like to remind BORCAB that the Anchorage Advisory Committee was told no and they moved on. They were very disappointed but they moved on. It’s important to keep perspective.”

Hosafros was referring to the 40 foot building the Anchorage Committee was hoping to construct next to Nervous Nellie’s for upland services for mooring field residents. While Hosafros said the Anchorage committee was told no, it’s important to note a few things for clarification. That was another case of town staff changing a design without anyone’s knowledge. It was community outrage about a 40 foot view-blocking building without any input that led to that project ending. That building was on a fast-track to being approved before the community spoke up.

Councilman Bill Veach voiced his concern with the lack of utilization of Bay Oaks. He believes if taxes need to be raised to pay for a $15 to $20 million Bay Oaks a referendum of the voters should be held.

BORCAB Vice Chair Barbara told us yesterday she was very encouraged at the willingness of the council to host a joint meeting with the staff, BORCAB and DRMP to hash out next steps with regard to Bay Oaks. “Just what we were hoping for. I personally believe we should build out what was conceptually drawn by DRMP in August based on our long range vision, and not go with the consolidated 30% design presented in October. This enhanced amenity will benefit the residential community as well as a great attraction for our seasonal residents and tourists.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. I think we should give consideration to the fact we are in a pandemic and people are struggling. So we should not raise taxes to cover such a large project.

    However, I think that the overall plan should be considered as a template for a long-term vision and that the objectives of the larger plan should be broken into phases and implemented over time.

    Bay Oaks is an underutilized gem for the community and the tourism industry. Those of us in the business community interested in developing attractions in the off season and shoulder season, would love to have softball or little league tournaments, or even swim meets in a larger, regulation length pool. This would generate income for FMB businesses, translating to tax revenue and help pay for debt service on the project.

    I applaud council for holding a joint meeting to give BORCAB the respect they deserve. I’m also dismayed that town staff seems to have a personal agenda and looks at the committees as something to empower or ignore at their convenience. These committees offer their time and talents for free and are a valuable perspective for council and the staff we pay to work for our best interests. I hope the meeting will consider a compromise of a more modest plan that leaves the “think big” options open which we can work toward over time.

  2. We need a reality check. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Our taxes are sky high. The town of Fort Myers Beach and all other budget line items set their budget rates not considering the financial strain of a pandemic. Are we really going to push for a $15-$20m budget Bay Oaks and then a tax referendum? We need to be realistic with our wants and needs.

    This needs to be taken to the community. Include a survey link in the Fort Myers Beach Newsletter (and BTR would pick that up). While the community may like the advisory committee vision, I don’t believe they will be willing to reach further in their pockets to pay for it AT THIS TIME.

    Finally we need to put the Town of FMB’s needs ahead of its wants. To that end, please PLEASE resurrect and proceed with a plan for lighting on EStero Blvd. This is an urgent safety NEED!

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