By Noelle H. Lowery
After sitting through the first three hours of the March 3 Marco Island City Council meeting, many in the audience were relieved the one agenda item they came to hear about — the referendum for the Mackle Park Community Center project — was on deck. It took councilors less than 30 minutes, though, to unanimously table the issue.
“We have to table this to get more information — more information to do the job right,” said Councilor Amadeo Petricca.
At issue in the discussion was the language of the resolution which would have set the referendum in motion to be held concurrently with the primary election on Aug. 26. The referendum would be “to determine whether to renovate and expand the indoor community center at Mackle Park.” The problem — as has been throughout this saga — was pricing.
The wording of the proposed referendum was: “Shall the City expend up to $_______ to renovate and construct additional community center space at Mackle Park?” The current plan for a turnkey, modular, precast concrete design concept is nearly one-year old, and so is the $2.25 million price tag. When the plan was floated last summer, builder Royal Concrete Concepts told city officials the pricing would only stand through September 2013.
This fact left councilors puzzled about the actual costs and made it impossible for them to agree on a not-to-exceed price. “We are doing this a little backwards,” Council Vice Chairman Larry told his fellow councilors. “We are trying to plug a number in there. We’d be better served if we don’t put a number in there…the real question is to ask the community if they want it.”
Both Petricca and Councilor Bob Brown raised concerns about the idea of sending a ballot out with a price attached. “I think the people want the referendum and to what dollar limit this is going to be. We do not really know what the number is,” Petricca conceded.
“I would be concerned about trying to send out a ballot without a number on it because this whole thing has been to overcome the number that first came out. That was so enormous it sent everyone out to the fields. I would like to see some sort of a number attached to it showing that it is a reasonable thing for those folks to agree to,” added Brown.
Brown was referring to the original plans for a new Mackle Park Community Center that many dubbed the Taj Mahal. According to Alex Galiana, who heads up facilities for Marco Island Parks and Recreation, the price tag and plans have changed many times over the course of the discussion. At last quote, the current iteration of the design would have cost $3.3 million for conventional construction and $2.25 million for the modular construction.
Councilor Joe Batte agreed: “You leave (the price) blank and you can bet you will get a ‘no’ vote. People want a say in this project, and they want to know what it is going to cost them.”
Councilor Chuck Kiester punctuated the discussion at dais by saying, “I am not sure I am ready to deal with this resolution tonight.”
So it is back to the drawing board for city staff to nail down a price for the plan before it or the referendum question can come back to City Council again.