Written by Cristela Guerra, cguerra@news-press.com 9:52 p.m. EST December 23, 2014

It’s a race to get shovels in the ground for the South Florida Canoe Kayak Club. On the horizon is a state-of-the-art boathouse and athletic facility for future Olympians as well as a new public park for the Cape Coral community. The club’s proposal said their project could bring an additional $8.6 million in annual revenue. Cape Coral could become an attraction for year-round, advanced paddlesport training and recreation. But first, Cape Coral City Council needs to begin the discussion and accept their proposal for further consideration, something expected after Jan. 1.

“This is an exciting opportunity that has been presented to the city,” said Councilwoman Rana Erbrick. “I look forward to watching it move through the process. The proposal they brought forward was not an easy thing to do, it had a lot of moving parts. Should this be accepted, it puts the city into a partnership that has long-range positive economic impact.”

The club’s deadline to open the 22,500-square-foot building on the banks of Cape Coral’s canals is January of 2016. They have letters of intent in hand from teams around the world who want to use Cape Coral as their training ground before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The club presented this unsolicited public-private partnership to the city of Cape Coral on Dec. 12. The week after members of the U.S. National Canoe and Kayak team had rented a home in the Cape to practice for seven days.  Athletes ranged in age from 15 to 26. All aspire to go to compete in the Olympics. Stanton Collins, 20, and Chris Miller, 22, both of Gainesville, Ga. had already been to international competitions placing in national and international competition. Their schedule while in town was grueling, training from early in the morning until close to dusk. Neighbors watched from their houses and were extremely cordial.
“It’s really nice here and it’s great that it’s warm all year. You can’t paddle through ice,” said Ian Ross, 22, from Washington D.C. “Our sport requires a lot of hard work. You have to stay focused.”

The club emphasizes that their focus is local first. Most of their development is open to the public and consists of affordable suites for traveling teams competing in Southwest Florida for other sports. “The reason we’re doing all this is to help support local youth,” said founder and club Executive Director Melinda Mack. “What we raise goes back into scholarships and local programs … this is also going to be a park so everything on site is open to the public with the exception of private office space. This includes a covered pavilion with restrooms, ropes course with zip line and additional features for Sunsplash Water Park.”

Over the last few years, the club and the community has tried to confront differences of opinion. Residents were concerned the number of kayakers would impact their quality of life. It’s been endlessly debated, polarized the boating community and filled up Cape Coral City Council chambers more than once. The waters around Lake Kennedy have also never been so busy. Between the club’s after-school program for students, workshops for para-athletes and international teams from Canada to Denmark, the club has seen a spike in popularity. “I just want the rights of residents protected,” said Lindsay Nesnidal, a resident whose been fighting for over a year to protect the nearby public waterways. “I want the safety upheld and for it not to be obtrusive to boaters.”

The two city lots to be developed are roughly 12-acres next to Sunsplash, just east of their current base in a single-family home. The estimated $23 million project includes the boathouse with storage, a conference center/cafeteria, fitness center, physical therapy and sports medicine services, men’s and women’s lock rooms and private office space. Next to the boathouse will be two-story suites for athletes and their coaches and support staff. It has 280 beds and 16 handicap-accessible rooms for paralympians. The club is expecting to hire between 40 to 50 full-time employees and 10 seasonal employees.
“This will be completely privately funded,” said Mack. “We’re not asking the city for any money except a low land lease … after 25 years this will be fully given to the city of Cape Coral in good condition.”

By the Numbers
Initial project cost: $22,509,457.00
Annual new dollars spent in the area: $8,688,000.00
Number of employees: 45 full-time/10 seasonal
Annual payroll for the South Florida Canoe Kayak Club: $1,282,500.00
Annual sales tax revenue from facility: $215,367.00
Annual tourist tax revenues from facility: $126,565.00
New annual government tax revenues: $341,932.00

Source: South Florida Canoe Kayak Club public, private partnership proposal
For more information on the South Florida Canoe Kayak Club, go to www.sfckc.org or call 239-443-6527.

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