Could a convention center be coming to Cape Coral?

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You may remember during an interview with CapeCoral.com in late July, Councilman Chris Chulakes-Leetz spoke of working with a group of citizens to present a proposal to construct a convention center in Cape Coral. Last week the group unveiled its plan to a group of citizens and business leaders at City Hall.

The brainchild of Cape Coral resident, Martin Brady, the group announced the idea of the Cape Coral housing a 16,000 to 18,000 convention center and entertainment complex in the city, “Anything you can do outdoors and anything that can be done outdoors can be done at the complex we are imagining,” said Chulakes-Leetz.

The group says the area of land in North Cape Coral known as Academic Village would be the perfect spot for such a venue. Academic Village is located on 170 acres of city owned property at the corner of Del Prado Boulevard and Kismet Parkway. The area was in the spotlight in 2010 as the proposed location for the failed Swim Center.

Brady, a retired firefighter from Philadelphia, moved to Cape Coral in 2005 and began working for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. During this time he realized the city was missing something in his opinion, “As I drove around I realized this city has a lot of parks. Everything here was planned around children and young adults. There was nothing for adults.”

It wasn’t until Brady and a few friends attended a boat show at the Harborside Convention Center in Fort Myers that he realized what Cape Coral truly needed, “We went to the boat show and had to park a mile and a half away from the venue and had to be shuttled in, making numerous stops on the way. Another thing I noticed was they basically closed all the streets in downtown Fort Myers for the show and upsetting many local business owners doing so. I thought North Cape Coral has a vast amount of land and would be a perfect location to host these types of events and conventions.”

During this same time, the city began discussions with a private company regarding the idea of building a Swim Center in North Cape Coral. Brady said he decided to wait and see what happened with the swim center before moving ahead with presenting his idea of a convention center. Once the swim center was defeated, Brady began putting together his plan for the convention center.

Brady says he has spent the last 1.5 years working on the plan and feels the convention center would be a major economic boom to the city, “Do you know how many industries and companies have events and conventions throughout the year? The American Medical Association, the Boy Scouts, big trucking companies, any type of industry that is out there, anybody that sells anything, where do they go? They go to conventions.”

Brady also stated that when people attend conventions, it is not just the conventions they attend, but many of the surrounding businesses as well. Brady says because of this it would cause the need for such businesses as hotels, restaurants and other service oriented businesses.

Something Cape Coral resident Mike Kumbier, who has worked the last 27 years in the RV industry as a manufacturer’s representative completely agrees with, “A convention center like this would add a lot to the Cape. It would bring industry back into the Cape and put people to work. Really, that is what we need to see happen.”

According to a recent study conducted by the Convention Industry Council, the meetings industry was responsible for $263 billion in spending in 2009. The study also related 1.7 million jobs in the United States to the meetings industry.

Brady along with Chulakes-Leetz says the center will not only house conventions and other events, but it could also serve as an emergency evacuation center during times of disaster. Brady says school gyms are not made for housing people after a storm and the convention center could store ready to eat meals, have a 3,000 gallon water tanker available, air conditioning, first aid, cots, and everything else needed for creating a well equipped evacuation center. Brady also says by creating the evacuation center grants from state and federal government agencies could help offset the cost of construction on the convention center.

The city currently owns the land the proposed convention center would be built. Chulakes-Leetz says in order to finance the construction of the center it would have to be financed by bonds and hopefully federal and state funding, “This would be the citizens investing in their own city.”

Chulakes-Leetz said the city would retain ownership of both the center and the land and would outsource the running of the center to private companies. The revenue generated from events, souvenir and food sales would go back to paying the bonds off and once those are paid money generated from the center would become a revenue stream for the city.

In order to make the convention center a reality, Chulakes-Leetz says it would have to be something the citizens of Cape Coral actually want. Chulakes-Leetz said he would like to see a referendum on the initiative before 2013. The councilman says he has been in touch with the Lee County Elections office and said it would be possible to do a mail referendum to get a vote on the initiative.

Those in attendance seemed cautiously optimistic about the reality of Cape Coral getting its own convention center, “I think it is a great start. I would love to see something like a convention center come to the city of Cape Coral. Who wouldn’t? There is a long road to go, though,” said Cape Coral Construction Industry Association Executive Director Heather Mazurkiewicz.

Brady says the next steps will be to put together the framework and further define the overall vision of the project, “This is the shot in the arm this city needs. This will make Cape Coral a destination for thousands each year.”