Fort Myers City Councilman Lin Bochette enlisted the advice of an old friend and Olympics connection to informally evaluate City of Palms Park. Greg Harney, who used to evaluate facilities around the world for athletes training for the Olympics, toured the ballpark Wednesday and visited Fort Myers for the first time.
The former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, which opened in 1993, has sat almost empty since 2012. The Red Sox moved to JetBlue Park at Fenway South in southeastern Lee County in 2012. The Florida SouthWestern State College baseball and softball teams have been using City of Palms Park in recent years. So has Perfect Game, Roy Hobbs and other youth and adult-league baseball tournaments.
The Lee County government took over the ballpark at the request of the City of Fort Myers and had planned on spending $1 million to demolish it later this year. The city government is exploring ways to preserve the land and perhaps the ballpark. Some of the Fort Myers City Council members are hoping to find a way to use the ballpark as a centerpiece for the further development of Midtown, the area just south of downtown Fort Myers. “My reaction was, maybe look for something different than baseball or softball, because you already have that,” Harney said, referring to CenturyLink Sports Complex, Fenway South and Terry Park among other county-owned baseball complexes. “You don’t want to build a white elephant.
“From what I’ve seen, you’ve got restaurant row, the waterfront, a new hotel, this new Oxbow Restaurant … that’s all seconds away.” Just looking at the existing ballpark and the available land, there could be a reconfiguration of the stadium to allow for football, soccer, lacrosse, etc., Harney said. “A project like that really requires some sort of a partnership,” said Harney, who is the president of Global Sports Partners and has worked at 15 Olympics and seven Pan American Games evaluating training sites for athletes since 1984. “You could have kind of a cornerstone.”
Harney met with Bochette, who competed in the Olympics as a track and field athlete and bobsledder for Puerto Rico, on an informal basis and was not paid by the city. Keeping the park as an athletic center, especially with the Skatium across the street, would be Harney’s recommendation.
“But you have to ask, what does the community want?” Harney said.
Photo by David Dorsey