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Demolition of historic Yacht Club to begin

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Feb 29, 2024

In August 2023, a randomly selected group of residents dubbed the Cape Coral Yacht Club Stakeholder Group stepped foot into the Ballroom, seeing first-hand the condition of the building and getting an idea of what could be preserved, and how. FILE/CJ HADDAD

The city of Cape Coral has awarded a near $1 million contract to raze the Yacht Club park, including the historic ballroom.

The “piggyback” contract, signed Tuesday, was awarded to Winter Haven-based Jackson-Laux Construction LLC in the amount of $987, 716.04 with work to be completed in 60 days.

City Capital Improvements interim Director David Hyyti said at Wednesday’s Cape Coral City Council workshop that staff has asked Johnson-Laux to get started within 30 days. He said one of the permits may take longer — a final dewater permit to begin the pool demolition.

“We are asking them to start to get the building taken down while waiting for the final permit,” Hyyti said.

City Manager Mike Ilczyszyn said he was hoping the work would start Thursday with the interior demolition, such as disconnecting the air condition system and properly degassing it, as well as taking down fencing.

“I would like to have it start as soon as possible,” he said. “The utilities and the actual deconstructing of the walls, that is going to start after the notice to proceed. I have to figure out how to work those timelines.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the city could not provide a time and date as to when the demolition efforts would commence.

It is expected to take about 60 days to take down the buildings, get the site cleared up and restored.

The Boathouse restaurant and the beach are expected to remain open through the process.

The city plans to rebuild the park with Council approving a concept plan that calls for a two-story event and meeting center; a resort-style pool and separate children’s pool; and four-story parking garage among the new amenities. The pier and yacht basin are to be rebuilt with additional parking for boat trailering. Estimated costs exceed $100 million with the city also considering possible public-private partnerships for some of the amenities.

The Yacht Club consultant will come back with updates on architecture and building programming next month to get started with actual full-fledged design with the facilities, Hyyti said.

Councilmember Robert Welsh asked for updates regarding the pier, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ian.

The consultant will go out to further investigate the pilings next week, as jackets were put on some deteriorating places in 2006, Hyyti said.

“The first investigation did not remove any jackets,” he said, adding that none of them were damaged to the point to see what former repairs survived.

A few of the jackets will be stripped off to look at the repairs to see if they are staying intact. Hyyti said they have a high level of confidence that the pilings are good and they can move forward to restore the pier on the existing pilings.

The city’s plans to demolish the complex, built by the city’s developers as the Cape’s first public facility, was heavily protested with a concerted effort to save at least the Ballroom, a state-designated historic building.

Former city council member Gloria Tate, who grew up in the Cape as a member of one of the city’s “pioneer” families, was a vocal supporter of the save-the-Ballroom effort as was the Cape Coral Museum of History and the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral.

Tate remains critical of the decision to tear down the Ballroom which escaped Ian largely unscathed although most of the site incurred devastating damage. Most of the city’s restoration/repair estimate for the structure is “deferred maintenance” costs.

“We’re spending a million dollars to tear down the only iconic building left in the city of Cape Coral. We did get state historic designation and that wasn’t even enough for this Council to save this building,” Tate said. “It’s just a very sad day for Cape Coral. I have asked many times for them to restore the building and no one is interested in that.”

Tate said the money allocated for demolition could have been better spent restoring the historic Ballroom — so designated for its Mid-Century Modern design and its history — as well as the pool and park grounds as the public would have been able to return to what has been one of the city’s most popular parks much sooner.

“New plans at a cost of $100-$125 million, so the land sits vacant for three years except for the Boathouse and the beach until they get it built. In the meantime, a city of 250,000 people has no community center to have events and no pool for our town.”

Her voice grew teary.

“I know my heart will break when they bring in the wrecking ball,” she said. “My heart will break in half when they bring that claw in.”

The Cape Coral Yacht Club was built by the community’s founders, Jack and Leonard Rosen, and opened in 1962 when development was in its infancy. The riverfront complex included the community center referred to as the Ballroom, pool, tennis courts, fishing pier, beach and, shortly thereafter, a teen center. The Rosens gave free family memberships to all homeowners in the community they were developing from scratch.

In 1998, the then-sitting City Council designated the Yacht Club a historic and cultural resource through a resolution.

The current Council approved the demolition last June.