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Fort Myers takes over City of Palms Park. Now what?

City of Palm Park

Fort Myers now owns City of Palms Park, the former Boston Red Sox spring-training ballpark once slated for demolition. The big question: what does the city do with it?

The city once owned the ballpark and the nearby training complex used by the BoSox before the team’s move to JetBlue Park, but passed along the facility to Lee County. After the county made plans for demolition, a Fort Myers mayor and city administrator proposed taking back the ballpark and search for adaptive reuse. The ballpark is currently the home of the Florida SouthWestern State College baseball team, but the rent paid by the college doesn’t really begin to address the $400,000-$500,000 annually needed to keep the facility open and maintained. (The old training fields are rented out for youth baseball tournaments.)

The city’s takeover doesn’t mean the ballpark will survive; indeed, if the city doesn’t come up with a reuse plan in the next year, the county is still on the hook for a million dollars in demolition costs. The city has talked about some sort of use as a gateway to downtown Fort Myers, as the ballpark and an adjoining training field borders other city properties and facilities to the north. There is an obvious use in an industry already served by Fort Myers: baseball. Terry Park, the longtime home of spring training in the city, is heavily used for college and high-school tournaments in spring and by traveling teams in summer. 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. One obvious path would be to prepare a site plan to create some sort of mixed-use development with a hotel, restaurants and retail tailored for the youth baseball world, giving organizers one-stop shopping for a tournament setup that offers traveling teams both a place to stay and a place to play. Sports tourism is a huge industry, and Fort Myers is already a player in the field.

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