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.”