The ongoing saga of Fort Myers’ City of Palms Park, a former Boston Red Sox training site, has taken another turn, with some locals pushing for its survival as a community green space and gathering spot.
Lee County has struggled to find a use for the 1992 ballpark built for Red Sox spring training since the team moved to JetBlue Park in 2012, first pitching the Washington Nationals on a move (which died when the county could not fund requested improvements) and then entering into a lease with Florida SouthWestern State College. (Those were the saner of the proposals; one had the ballpark converted to a natatorium.) The lease with FSW is now expired, but the debate rages over the future of the facility.
Lee County had prepped a plan to demolish the old ballpark and open the land to developers, but now some citizens are calling on the city to take over the facility and turn it into a community resource, keeping baseball and converting other elements of the site. Debt on the City of Palms Park will be paid off by the end of the year. Fort Myers attorney Sawyer Smith is leading the charge to keep the ballpark alive in some form, citing a study of local residents who overwhelmingly (82.5 percent) favor keeping City of Palms open and leaving it as a ballpark, concert space and greenspace. What had been pitched for the site: a mixed-use town center development that would include 600,000 square feet of office and commercial use and 4,000 residential units. The Fort Myers Midtown area, with City of Palms Park as a prime component, comprises some 240 acres south of the downtown area.
FSW wouldn’t be part of this new plan, apparently–the school is looking at a small one-campus facility for both baseball and softball–but that’s not stopping Smith from exploring the options. A new mayor (Kevin Anderson), several new city council members and a new city administrator also changes the dynamics of the situation. From the Fort Myers News-Press (no link; paywalled):
“It’s up in the air right now,” Anderson said. “It’s been slated for demolition. The county promised to do it. Plans have been brought before the council. One of them was to turn it into an amateur sports complex. There’s been talk about renovating it and trying to repurpose it.
“As the new city manager gets settled in, he has the opportunity to look this project over. What is the highest and best usage for that property? What’s going to benefit the city the most? I’m open to all kinds of suggestions. We could find a public-private partnership so the taxpayers aren’t paying the brunt of the cost. What I want to see is what’s best for the city. And I don’t necessarily know what that is for that piece of property.”
Anderson said he wasn’t opposed to giving the ballpark a stay of execution. This would give the city more time to search for partners to rejuvenate the ballpark.
Amateur sports are a bug business in Florida, and no matter how many new facilities open, it seems like there’s always demand for more.
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