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Council receptive to temporary Yacht Club closure

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Dec 9, 2021

Closing the Cape Coral Yacht Club park complex for two years for its $37 million renovation will save four months in construction time and more than $430,000 in projected revenue resulting from the revamp.

Discussion of the renovation and planned closure was the main portion of the Parks GO Bond update Wednesday at which Cape Coral City Council also got an update on all the other parks in the city’s Parks Master Plan.

Wright Construction Group, which will be in charge of the Yacht Club’s overhaul, said the reason the closure is necessary (with the exception of the Ford’s Boathouse restaurant) is risk management. At issue was whether it would make sense to keep certain things open at the potential cost of time, money and safety.

While fire and police would have access to the waterways, nobody else would. With barges in the water to work on the new seawalls, traffic in the canals would be hindered.

Further, there would be no power or water at the docks, therefore no lighting. Walking traffic would be limited as many of the sidewalks and bike paths would be removed.

Council was overall excited by the plan. But they did have some questions.

Councilmember Gloria Tate was concerned about how the city would get the word out about the progress of the project.

“Communication is job one. We need to go door to door because the most expensive real estate in the city is going to be closed for two years,” Tate said.

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said she would like to see a schedule of what will be done and when.

“I want to see a timeline so residents can go to the website and know what will happen and when. I would also like to hold town hall meetings to answer people’s concerns,” Nelson said. “For a project this long, communication is the key.”

There also concern was that there would be only 50 parking spaces for Ford’s Garage and many would have to walk a distance to get there.

Ford’s also is expected to close for renovations, though for a shorter time, next fall. Their project at the city-owned site is expected to last six to eight weeks during which time the city can address the area on which the restaurant sits.

City Manager Rob Hernandez and Mayor John Gunter said the city has to balance risk and reward and that the reward of a shorter timeline, less money spent and public safety is a no-brainer.

“The safety of the citizens is more important than keeping it open and risking their safety,” Hernandez said.

“We have to take one step backward before we take two steps ahead. The safety to our residents is important. I support closing the Yacht Club,” Gunter said.

Michael Ilczyszyn, assistant public works director, said work is expected to start in May. The anticipated cost is about $36.7 million, with about $14 million to come from the voter-approved GO Bond.

The remainder will come from revenue bonds and projected revenue from such things as additional boat slips and new parking fees.

Ilczyszyn also agreed that communication will be the key.

“We’ll get together with our communications people and put together a packet that has quarterly construction updates, what’s under construction and when. We’ll set up meetings with the HOAs and use social media and traditional media to send updates,” Ilczyszyn said. “Now that we know the council is comfortable with the two-year closure, we can start putting out that public information.”

Many services are expected to be moved. The Tony Rotino Senior Center is expected to be relocated, with the city and parks department looking for suitable alternatives.

The Chester Street Resource Center was considered an option, but only as a last resort, since the area lacks space and parking. There are no alternatives regarding swim lessons at the pool.

The ballroom functions will be taken in by the private sector, while those who use the yacht basin will be referred to other facilities in the private and public sector.

All Lee County tennis leagues will be moved the Cape Coral High School.

Among the major changes proposed are to move the public boat ramp from inside the canal to the basin. Others include fencing around the area to keep people and noise out of the nearby neighborhood, lighting and landscaping changes and the use of artificial surfaces along the waterways to eliminate the need for fertilizer.