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Town Council, advisory board meet over Bay Oaks plans

Multi-million dollar building projects still being finalized

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Jan 21, 2021

Town of Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bill Veach said he believes the Bay Oaks gym has more life left than some think.

A joint meeting between the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board (BORCAB) and Fort Myers Beach Council last week didn’t resolve questions about what a new Bay Oaks campus may look like though it did flush out some of the differences and positions of the board members.

Mayor Ray Murphy called on the board to give the council its priorities though BORCAB member Lee Melsek stood by the original plan and said the priorities were already given through that plan.

Barbara Hill, vice chair of BORCAB, said she envisions children using one building in a new community center building with adults using a sports facility. She wants separate ballfields though she said she is willing to take one of the proposed turf fields off the table, as well as the welcome center.

Hill strongly supports building a new amphitheater for the town.

“We don’t want a second-rate amphitheater. We want a first-rate amphitheater,” she said.

The Bay Oaks fitness center

BORCAB Chair Betty Simpson, who has called Bay Oaks a “legacy project,” said the original plan for Bay Oaks was “ambitious” and “costs money. I think we are aware of that.”

Simpson said “we felt comfortable we could have two buildings.”

The estimated cost of doing the full Bay Oaks overhaul as previously proposed by BORCAB was about $22 million, according to Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstadt. The town council has agreed on setting aside $5.5 million for the project out of a $10 million loan the council has approved for three projects. There was talk of possibly adding $1 million at the joint meeting based on the Times Square project funding. The town hasn’t yet executed the $10 million loan.

Members of BORCAB spoke of support for phasing out an overhaul of the Bay Oaks campus and fundraising to help cover some of the costs the town council may not be willing to afford though it wasn’t clear how much fundraising may be needed.

Mayor Ray Murphy said a larger Bay Oaks project “would have to be phased over time.”

Bay Oaks fitness center

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said she is in favor of phasing though future councils could decide not to take on plans for Bay Oaks.

Councilmember Bill Veach said he doesn’t believe that phasing out the Bay Oaks buildings means “open up the pocketbook.” He cautioned against going into the town’s reserves to pay for what he is concerned could become “a white elephant.” Two buildings would need more staff and cost the town an amphitheater, he said.

Veach also said he thinks the gym is worth saving.

“I think the existing gym has a lot more life to it than maybe some people are saying because it’s essentially cinder blocks. They have a new floor,” he said.

“I haven’t seen any of these designs that replicate that space,” Veach said.

Melsek, who has called for replacing the gym, said “it’s not the kind of building that’s going to attract people.”

Hill said she believes the town could live with the current gym for a “few more years.”

Hill said an amphitheater, located on the site of a ball field and not attached to a building, is a priority. She doesn’t want one consolidated building.

“My fear is that this plan, this consolidated plan, actually does not provide us with what we want. Not now and not later. It doesn’t allow for the kind separate amphitheater as integrated,” Hill said.

Allers compared the project to Friends of Lovers Key and that perhaps a Friends of Bay Oaks should be reconstituted to raise funds for the project.