The Fort Myers Beach Town Council has given Town Manager Roger Hernstadt direction to move forward with his scaled down design of the new Bay Oaks campus. The Bay Oaks Advisory Board was pushing for a much larger facility, phased in over time, that would have cost millions of dollars more than what was budgeted.
The plan Hernstadt will now move forward with includes one building with an attached amphitheatre. Committee members who’ve been working on the project for several years had a vision of a much larger facility which included several buildings, a detached amphitheatre, an upgraded gym facility, and many more amenities.
Even the scaled down version is over the $5.5 million budget set aside for Bay Oaks. Hernstadt estimated the bigger plan would have cost $15 to $20 million.
Councilman Dan Allers served on the Bay Oaks Committee before he was elected to the town council. He told us the Bay Oaks campus took a positive step forward on Tuesday. “With the hard work and vision of the BORCAB committee, the island will be getting a long deserved community center. With the addition of the amphitheater, fitness trail, new entrance and many other things, our residents and visitors will have a place that the entire family can enjoy. Bay Oaks will be something our community can be proud of.”
Barbara Hill is the Vice Chair of the Bay Oaks Committee, which is made up of all community volunteers. Hill shared her thoughts with us after the decision was made. “While our Bay Oaks advisory board (BORCAB) did not get everything we believe our island community deserves, now and in the future, I am pleased that council voted to move forward with directing staff to provide a site plan, a 30% design that will to indicate where a separate amphitheater and a fully equipped athletic center, will ultimately go as part of future phasing. Councman Atterholt correctly pointed out the importance of including all phases in this site plan as “aspirational” to inspire the community and future councils to support and move forward to finish building a fully functional parks and recreational facilities for our island’s residents and visitors, one that we all can point to with pride. It was my hope that the Mound House success story would serve as an inspiration for what the Bay Oaks redevelopment can achieve. Serving on the Mound House advisory board for 15 years, we had aspirational goals in a master plan that were realized, through political will and community support, an almost unprecedented undertaking for a small community. I was hoping that achievement would inspire this council to do the same with Bay Oaks. Sadly, that did not happen today. But I have hope that will happen in the future.”
Councilman Bill Veach said, “I’m excited about the plan. It’s going to be a great asset for the islaind.”
Bay Oaks committee member Lee Melsek spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s council meeting. Melsek has been frustrated since late last year when Hernstadt pitched the scaled down plan to the council without letting the committee know. “Allow us to meet with DRMP (the design consultant) so we can design a much nicer building for the people of Fort Myers Beach. This is not the right building and it’s in the wrong place. Our plan is a diamond. Please don’t treat it like a lump of coal.”
His plea went unanswered and the project rolls on.