Fort Myers considering spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” to turn one of its four baseball stadiums into a baseball stadium

Hum de dum, what do we have this morning? An article from Fox Southwest Florida headlined “Councilman says stadium plans are rushed,” about a sports complex in Fort Myers? That’s not one that was on my radar, let’s see what it has to say:

Pump the breaks.

Oh man, with an opening like that, this could be great! Let’s see where it goes from there.

Councilman Fred Burson introduced the idea of an amateur sports facility to council on November 16th. It would replace City of Palms Park, where the Red Sox had spring training, which is scheduled to get demolished later this year.

The Boston Red Sox indeed had spring training at City of Palms Park, but not since 2011, when they relocated to a new stadium out by the airport. (City of Palms Park was all of 18 years old at that point.) The old facility has mostly served for college baseball since then; Fort Myers has two other stadiums as well, one that hosts the Minnesota Twins for spring training, one that used to host the Philadelphia Athletics, and so should go without saying it’s a bit old, though it’s also being remodeled and currently heavily used for amateur sports.

Just three weeks later City Manager Saeed Kazemi had already recommended a contractor for the project. A process that could take six months. Burson says he thinks it’s all because the city manager doesn’t want a stadium there at all.

Er? No further explanation of why the city manager recommending a contractor would be a move to scuttle stadium plans, unless maybe Kazemi is trying to push for some alternate development plan that could be moved ahead with more quickly? Anyway, Burson said this, so just put it on the station website, that’s how journalism works, I’m almost definitely sure!

Burson wants the facility because he says it’ll bring more revenue to downtown Fort Myers.

“I’m wanting to make it something that will support the businesses, and the hotel industry in Fort Myers, and Lee County,” he said.

You may recall from past economic studies that spring training games themselves provide no measurable economic impact to Florida cities, likely because the number of people who travel to Florida in March just to see spring training is swamped by the number of people who go there because it’s warm and there are beaches, and maybe take in a baseball game while they’re there. It’s maybe possible that amateur sports, which can take place all year, would have more of an economic spinoff … for hotels? Would that many people really travel to Fort Myers just to have their kids play in amateur baseball tournaments? And that many more than would come for tournaments that could be held at the existing four stadiums? A previous article indicated that Burson said that “during the summer, Perfect Game, an amateur baseball organization, hosted tournaments that brought about 32,000 people to the region,” which even if you believe that number seems like maybe they don’t need a new sports complex to draw tournaments, but anyway:

Another hesitation for some – the cost, which Burson says ultimately could have a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’m not talking about the city spending money to do it. I’m talking about coming up with a plan – a complete plan, and selling it to a development company,” he said.

Hundreds of millions of dollars. For an amateur sports complex. In a city with four baseball stadiums already. But don’t worry, a development company will surely pay for this, because it’s a can’t-lose proposition!

Councilman Johnny Streets said he supports the stadium, but the timing is off.

“Before we just rush into something, I think we need to take care of some of these other items,” he said.

Streets says the stadium should take a backseat to the pandemic and the city’s housing crisis for now. The city manager has not responded to Fox 4’s requests for comment on these claims as of Monday night.

And that’s the end of the article! Does Streets have any idea how to pay for the complex, if he supports it, just not now? Have any development companies expressed interest? Are there any other ideas for ways to use the old ballpark land, even if maybe they won’t bring throngs of high school travel teams and their families beyond the throngs that are already coming to Fort Myers?

So many questions, so few answers, because if Fox Southwest Florida doesn’t have time for copy editing, it really doesn’t have time for making more than two phone calls before writing an article about a project that would put hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. Sorry, three phone calls, there’s that one to the city manager that wasn’t returned. More news on this developing story as it becomes available, though given the state of reporting in southwest Florida, I wouldn’t exactly hold your breath.