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Seven Islands: A simple question

By Staff | Nov 10, 2022

A project pursued by the city of Cape Coral since 2016 reached its penultimate moment last week.

City Council approved a $20 million purchase agreement for the 47 acres off Old Burnt Store Road known as the Seven Islands. The buyer, Gulf Gateway Resort and Marina LLC, is to pay a $1 million deposit within 30 days.

Closing is pending a development contract to be approved by both parties as well as the buyer obtaining the necessary permits to build what both sides agree will be a “destination” — a $1 billion waterfront community to include a marina, a 240-room hotel with 25,000 square feet of meeting space, a commercial village and 995 residential units, mostly condominiums in buildings up to eight stories.

Gulf Gateway Resort and Marina Village will create an estimated 9,500 jobs and will add an additional $6.5 million per year to the city’s tax base.

Kudos to the city for bringing this project to near-fruition.

Kudos as well to Gulf Gateway Resort and Marina for seeing the potential in our city and its commitment to invest.

Did you miss this game-changing action?

You’re not alone.

The agenda item was toward the bottom of a list of resolutions and ordinances, noted by a lengthy legal description where pretty much the only thing understandable was a reference to “the islands.”

At the meeting, there was little from the buyer or staff with City Manager Rob Hernandez providing a brief intro.

There was no Council discussion, debate, or a figurative popping of the cork in a city sorely in need of such good news.

The sale contract simply passed 7-0 and Council moved on to other business without discussing what we believe was a key issue at hand: An in-the-works change to a major component of the city-approved development framework included in its request for proposals for the Seven Islands.

In the online documents, and referenced by Mr. Hernandez to Council, is a new phrase for the public component of the project for which the taxpayers provided the seed money — i.e. the funds with which the city bought the land as part of a multi-parcel $13.74 million foreclosure package during the Great Recession.

That phrase is the inclusion of “functional public space” for which the developer will receive a $500,000 incentive to create.

Why is this key?

The Council-selected development option approved after months of public “charrettes,” input from residents and neighborhood associations, council debate and much discussion, included all of the “destination” elements and a few more: A two-story, 40,000-square-foot community center abutting a public marina on the “island” directly across from Tropicana Park. With green space, boardwalk, public edge and across-the-water connection to the city park, Seven Islands was touted as a potential Cape Coral Yacht Club type amenity for residents in the northern half of the city — but better — as development would offer more and would help pay for the public component via increased tax revenues.

Not discussed at the meeting this week was Point 9 among city staff’s “contract of sale/key terms” which states that a change in zoning will be proposed to allow the community center amenity to be replaced.

“Development will be consistent with the Developer’s master concept plan, MX7 zoning, the D-1 Concept, and proposed development schedule (Change to the MX7 zoning will be proposed. MX7 requires a 40,000 square foot community center. Greater flexibility is desired to build an outdoor public space or conference room space inside the hotel that can be used by community organizations may be more useful and doesn’t require staffing.)”

The information in parentheses was printed in red so you would not miss it — if you waded through the backup material provided. The italic emphasis is ours.

So, instead of a community center four times larger than the Yacht Club’s 10,000-square-foot facility, city staff has brought forward “functional public space” — conference room space in the hotel. Or “outdoor space” of some sort.

For which taxpayers will pay a $500,000 incentive to include.

After Mayor John Gunter flagged the public amenity component — or a lack there of — in February, Mr. Hernandez was directed to go back and get additional details as to how the components of the development proposed filled the Council-approved template provided in the RFP.

We guess he did that.

But if undefined “functional public space” is the best commitment Mr. Hernandez and his administrative team could obtain pre-contract when the city has the greatest ability to obtain what it wants as a condition of sale, they failed.

Abysmally.

As did Council.

Residents were promised more than another Cape Harbour or Tarpon Point — as wonderful as we agree they are — by adding public facilities in an area of the city where such amenities are most needed.

Let us be an advocate for the taxpayers of the north Cape since one seems to be sorely lacking.

The owner of every single home-in-waiting — all those vacant lots — have had their pockets picked for taxes, fees and assessments since the city’s incorporation 50-plus years ago. For the vast majority of that time they have received nothing in return.

The owners of every home built with hard-earned money have paid and pay much more. They have received comparatively little in the way of near-by quality-of-life amenities thus far.

Let us be clear for those who like to designate the city north of Pine Island Road as proper noun: The “North Cape” is not some lesser-than relative to whom one grudgingly gives the hand-me-downs, the leftovers.

The northern portion of our city is simply… Cape Coral.

The growing half of Cape Coral.

The future of Cape Coral as the city moves toward a projected population of 450,000 at buildout.

It is time those taxpayers start getting prioritized — and it is time they get what they were told they would be getting.

No money to staff a 40,000-square-foot community center as a public component of the Seven Islands development?

Another $6.5 million a year to the city’s property tax coffers should be a healthy start.

The city still has to approve a development plan.

We urge our new, election-configured Council to, yes, be flexible when it comes to the public amenity aspect.

All told, the project substantively meets the city’s proposal.

But also ask: Is this an upgrade to what was asked for?

We wager a 40,000-square-foot community center abutting a marina will be hard to beat.

–Breeze editorial

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