Future of Bay Oaks Discussed

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Joint Council/BORCAB Meeting

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council met with their Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) late morning on Tuesday, October 29, to discuss Council’s possible approval of BORCAB’s new Strategic Action Plan. Present were Mayor Anita Cereceda with Council members Bruce Butcher, Rexann Hosafros and Joanne Shamp, with Vice Mayor Ray Murphy on an excused absence. Representing BORCAB were Chair Betty Simpson, Vice Chair Rae Sprole, and board members Becky Bodnar, Barbara Hill and Lee Melsek, with Dan Allers on an excused absence. Joining the session were Alison Giesen, the Town’s Interim Parks & Recreation Director, and Recreation Campus Manager Sarah Mayher.

“The information Council has is what we gathered over the past year, starting in 2018,” explained Giesen, “to come up with a Strategic Action Plan for BORCAB. Our goal is to get Council to approve it so we can get to work on the recommendations we present to you today.”

Cereceda said her biggest Bay Oaks question “for the longest time is how many people use the Recreational Center and my biggest takeaway from this is it is less than 1,100 users. If I looked at Bay Oaks the way I would look at one of my businesses, I would be looking to make it into something else because it is obvious that not enough people in this community use it and that concerns me!” Butcher, while cautioning not to confuse Bay Oaks members with users, stated, “Just because you are a member does not mean you are a user. When I look at the numbers, I see under 1,000 people.” Hosafros agreed that Bay Oaks “is underutilized” and Cereceda intoned, “It is obsolete!”

“God’s Waiting Room!”

Shamp noted that “other communities have facilities they call their ‘Gathering Place!’ Bay Oaks is underutilized because it is not the ‘Gathering Place’ it could be. It formerly hosted the ‘Taste of the Beach,’ but that is now Downtown, so I worry there are not more reasons for people to go there. When my husband and I attended a kid’s baseball game, I felt like we were in a real community and not in ‘God’s Waiting Room!’ I would like to experience more feelings like that!”

Simpson said, “We are dealing with a 35-year-old facility and we need to bring it up-to-date to do other things. The facility has outgrown itself and nobody knows that more than this committee. This is a concern to us, but also an opportunity and that is why we are here.” Butcher noted, “I do not see any big capital expenditure in here.” Cereceda replied that the Town recently increased its Ad Valorem Tax Rate “to save money for capital projects and the biggest one was this! This study is more about what we have now rather than what it could be.” Hosafros commented that there remains confusion “over who owns what out there. We need that answer before we can do anything else.”

Need to Change

“Rexann is right!” agreed Melsek. “Before we can talk about a new facility or adding a Senior Center, you need more land to expand, as that is a small property. The bottom line is this is the wrong place to put that place in the first place! Lee County built it wrong and once the Town received it, we did not advertise or market it at all, so that is why you have no place to get people together and you have the numbers we have.” Sprole noted that the recent “Roar Offshore Street Party” was the kind of community program Bay Oaks needs, “as every local I see all say that was the best event ever on this island!”

Hill explained that Council asked BORCAB to “provide specific recommendations to you and we presented that. To your point, Joanne, we too want a happening ‘Gathering Place’ and that is why we came up with this Strategic Action Plan, so we fulfilled our part; now the next step is up to you to move forward to achieve that. In my opinion, we need to hire a land planner to come up with a master plan including a funding cost.”

Melsek asked for clarification: “Am I wrong about this? I thought the consensus was that this building needs to come down!” Shamp stated “It is not a gathering place right now. Recreation may still be a part of that, but it needs to be more than that; it needs to change.”

Million Dollar Question

Butcher noted that Bay Oaks “needs to change, but for $10 million? $50 million? $5 million? In my opinion, we need to do this in partnership with Lee County and Lee County Public Schools.” Shamp agreed, “Lee County partners with Sanibel and Estero, so a partnership with us does not sound beyond reason.” Hosafros related, “after we find out who owns what, we need to sit down with Lee County officials and ask if they will partner with us – the ball is in our court.” Sprole cautioned, however, to “be careful what you ask for, because once you go into business with someone else and take their money, you lose control!”

Butcher felt that “the first people we should go to is Lee County and the School Board, with the request they give the Town their land.” Shamp added, “We gladly welcome the children of the people we employ on this island as well as those kids who live on this island, and that is why we need the involvement of Lee County.” Hosafros reminded the group that, before any of these other conversations can begin, “Council must approve this Strategic Action Plan! Let’s put it on a future agenda soon to approve, so BORCAB can move ahead.” Cereceda agreed, saying “We know we need both short- and long-term action plans, so let’s ratify this plan so we can clarify those.”