Cape Coral business leaders moved forward Friday with a plan to study the Bimini Basin and its surrounding properties for future development opportunities.
During the monthly meeting of the Cape Coral Council for Progress, Mayor Marni Sawicki spoke about the potential of developing the western end of the Community Redevelopment Agency district through a public-private partnership. The council voted in favor of looking further into the project.
Last year, Sawicki had the opportunity to learn about the Mayors' Institute on City Design.
The institute organizes sessions where mayors engage leading design experts to find solutions to the most urban design challenges facing their cities, according to its website. During a session, each mayor presents a problem from his or her city for the other mayors and designers to discuss as a case-study.
Mayors present a range of challenges, including waterfront redevelopment, downtown revitalization, transportation planning and the design of new public buildings like libraries and arts centers. Following a presentation, mayors and designers identify issues, offer suggestions and discuss possible solutions.
With plans to attend a session in March, Sawicki directed city staff to put together three design challenges for examination. The downtown Cape was picked to be submitted at the session.
"We haven't seen movement in years in the CRA," she said at Friday's meeting.
During the session, the mayors and designers suggested that the Cape take advantage of its unique canal system to spur development and growth. The city has more than 400 miles of canals. The group noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would never allow that much dredging again.
"People want waterfront destinations. They want places to go," Sawicki said.
The group recommended shifting the Cape's focus away from the CRA district to the Bimini Basin-Rubicon Canal area. They noted that the move would allow the city to embrace the water and leverage its assets to create a thriving destination. Connecting the canal, which is split by a road, was noted.
"This is nothing new. This is something that was talked about years ago," she said.
Removal of the road barrier would open up access to the downtown Cape's canal system.
"You can make some points of destination throughout," Sawicki said. "The possibilities are endless."
The group also discussed ways to fund the project, which would be an issue for the city.
"We don't have money," she said. "We don't even have money for street lights."
A private-public partnership on the project was identified as one option.
The Cape is eligible for some grants, but land swaps and the selling or leasing of city-owned lands were also touched upon. Sawicki pointed out that a thriving hub would bring in tourism revenue.
"If we don't plan now, we're going to be in the same situation every year," she said, noting that the city is 92 percent residential so the citizens pay for build-out. "What kind of assessment can I do now?"
Following Sawicki's presentation, members of the council voiced questions and concerns.
"I think the toughest thing right now is, 'What is our vision?'," Joe Mazurkiewicz, the executive director of the Cape Coral Council for Progress, said. "People are afraid of the unknown."
He pointed out that a letter of intent is needed to pursue a private-public partnership.
"We've got to give them something," Mazurkiewicz said.
The council agreed to first focus on a vision, then develop a master plan and letter of intent.
Former Cape Coral Councilmember Gloria Tate explained that there are at least three locations in the downtown Cape with the potential for development. She said two are on the water, but one is not.
Sawicki also shared with the council that the Mayors' Institute on City Design has arranged to have students studying design and architecture at the University of South Florida visit the city. The students will help develop the Bimini Basin-Rubicon Canal project and are tentatively set to visit next week.
Some members pointed out that the "local talent" should also be tapped for their expertise.
The council decided to reach out to multiple sources to develop a plan, including the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral, the CRA, the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association and area land owners. The groups will work collaboratively on the plan to bring before the Cape's City Council.
The members also agreed to put together a task force for the project.
"The sky really is the limit," Sawicki said. "Let's just try to move forward with something."
The Cape Coral Council for Progress meets on the second Friday of each month at 7:30 a.m. at the Hampton Inn & Suites, at 619 S.E. 47th Terrace. Starting at 7 a.m., networking takes place.
For more information, contact Joe Mazurkiewicz at (239) 541-8619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mayors' Institute on City Design is a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative, in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors.
For more information about the initiative, visit its website online at: www.micd.org.