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‘Game changer’ indeed

August 7, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council this week lent support to a 35,000-square-foot conference center the owners of the Westin Resort at Tarpon Point propose to build to enhance their complex in the southwest Cape.

The $10 million project, on par in terms of size with the Harbourside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers, is projected to create approximately 33 new jobs, bring in an estimated $100,000 more in bed tax money and an additional $22,735 in property tax revenues while adding a total regional benefit of $33.44 million in its first three years.

Proponents of the project set to break ground later this year for a 2017 opening say it's a "game changer" for the city that will not only bring additional tax dollars but "new money" - the very definition of economic development - while also providing the foundation from which other such ventures can springboard.

The developers are wholly funding the project.

What they have asked for, in return, is that the city waive impact fees for the project while also releasing it from a road repaving project agreed to by a previous developer.

Council on Monday said it would not grant the fee waiver but would, instead, provide a financial incentive of up to $200,000 from the city's Economic Development Reserve Fund, a fund earmarked for major projects.

As for the road project component, the city will look to Lee County to kick in some incentive money to offset the estimated $500,000 repaving cost for Pelican Boulevard.

A couple of things.

One, there is no question the conference center project qualifies for any economic development incentive money that may be available.

Projects that are economic generators are rare, indeed, and to have one proposed by a known entity with cash in hand is rarer yet.

Council's decision on the incentive was a wise one, especially since this particular project is estimated to return $50 for every $1 invested by the city.

Two, the request that the current owners, Freeman & Hasselwander LLC, be released from a road repaving obligation agreed to by a previous developer is not an unreasonable one, $500,000 price tag or not.

The existing project already has brought in an estimated $4 million in impact and permitting fees with the initial repaving obligation being basically an interesting add on. Good for the city for getting it, but this isn't the building boom heyday anymore nor are the current owners the ones who agreed to bring the gravy.

While we'd like to see the county kick in - and certainly urge participation - this should not be a deal breaker even if the city has to go it alone.

Cape Coral has tried for years to attract this type of put-the-Cape-on-the map centerpiece.

It's now here for the taking.

We urge our elected officials and administration to help make this happen.

- Breeze editorial



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