It was supposed to be a discussion about the size and design of the proposed new Mackle Park Community Center.
As happens often times when the subject of Mackle Park comes up, though, the joint workshop between the Marco Island City Council and its Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) — held Tuesday, Jan. 20 — quickly devolved into a discussion about projected programming numbers, competition with private community and business organizations, and whether or not the sole focus of this project should even be Mackle Park.
The workshop was a culmination of more than two years of work on the part of PRAC committee members — work to get the word out about the need for a new community center, work to get the August referendum approved by a majority of Marco Island voters and work to design and build a facility that will meet the current and future needs of a growing Marco Island community.
To be sure,the work paid off in at least one area: 55 percent of Marco Island voters approved the Mackle Park public referendum question — “Shall the city expend up to $3.5 million to construct a new community center up to 16,000 square feet at Mackle Park?”
In preparation for this workshop, PRAC committee members did their due diligence, visiting multiple government-backed community centers all over Lee and Collier counties. They examined the architecture, the lay-outs and the amenities included in each facility to form a basis of comparison for the current tentative floor plan for Mackle Park.
The conclusion was simple for Dr. Gerald Swiacki, PRAC vice chairman. “It would be foolhardy to build an inadequate facility only to have to add to it within a few years,” he insisted.
PRAC Member Litha Berger agreed: “Things are not slowing down around here…We need a good rec center. We need a new building.”
The current concept includes a two-phase, 16,070-square-foot facility. Phase one consists of an 8,736-square-foot building, which would include a central lobby, reception and staff area; restrooms; two programs rooms; adult game room; and a 2,900-square-foot community room. It has been designed contiguous to the existing community center. Phase two includes razing the existing community center and the construction of a 7,334-square-foot building with an identical floor plan to phase one.
Mindy Gordon, the city’s recreation manager, did her homework as well, creating an exhaustive listing of current and projected programming for Mackle Park. Her aim was to demonstrate to City Councilors the possible space needs for programming in a new facility as far a three years in advance. She told workshop attendees that the conceptual design encompassed 6,200 square feet of space just for programming and includes a 2,800-square-foot teen/youth center, which would replace the existing portable trailer and game room. City staff has been basing its estimates on a price per square foot of $200 for new construction.
Immediately, councilors questioned the programming projections, going so far as to question whether or not the type of programming was even warranted. Councilor Victor Rios noted that the projected new programming in the listing accounted for a 150 percent increase in the activities offered at Mackle Park.
PRAC Member Dr. Carlos Portu countered, “We put together a plan for general meeting space. It is hard to go to a community group to ask hypothetically when and how they will use (the space) in the future.”
He added: “Until the structure is really there, it is very difficult to project. Deciding programming two to three years ahead of an existing structure is very challenging. When you really get down to the nitty gritty, the increase in size is not really that dramatic. We are talking about a 5,000-square-foot addition to the existing space. It is easy to see how this space will be utilized, and we have gone through this seven ways to Sunday and then some. I don’t think there will be an underutilization of this buildings. We are trying to be as conservative as we can. Building something that will be ineffectual the day it is constructed doesn’t seem very wise.”
Then there was the competition question.
“How did you account for the Y’s plans for a new teen center?” asked Councilor Ken Honecker, referencing the recently released plans from the Greater Marco Family YMCA for a 5,000-square-foot Youth Development Center.
Swiacki answered, “The Y is a private organization. We are not a private organization. Our citizens should have the best facilities available. Regardless of what (the Y does), we should offer our citizens the opportunity to have a teen center.”
Bruce Graev, vice president of the Cultural Alliance of Marco Island and Goodland, a local group of seven not-for-profit groups, stressed: “The issue is that the city needs to make sure it is not competing with nonprofits on the island.”
Vice Chairman Bob Brown echoed this sentiment. “I would hate for us to be in competition with anyone else on the island,” he said.
Councilor Amadeo Petricca added, “I don’t want us to be everything to everybody. We have other facilities on this island…I am not looking for us to compete with private entities.”
Gordon tried to ally these concerns by emphasizing that the programming — current and projected — does not compete with any of the other groups on the island. Instead, it enhances the offerings, and many times, the city has worked with these groups in order to offer programming.
Finally, some councilors questioned if all of the focus — and funding — should be directed at Mackle Park. “Was there any consideration given to any other parks or space the city owns?” asked Honecker. “We want to get the most bang for the buck for our citizens. We might want to add square feet somewhere else.”
Enter Veterans Community Park and City Manager Roger Hernstadt’s desire to build a 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose building there. The possibility of expanding city facilities at Veterans Park has councilors considering scaling back the Mackle Park concept to build additional space elsewhere.
“What has changed in our mind is that we have an opportunity to build a facility at Veterans Park that was not originally in the cards,” explained Honecker. “We could do a total redo of the building at 10,000 square feet, and then see what other space is available at Veterans Park.”
Brown agreed: “A 16,000-
square-foot facility just doesn’t work for me. What are we going to do with Veterans Park. If we throw 100 percent of the money at Mackle Park, we can kiss anything at Veterans Park goodbye.”
The mention of Veterans Park raised the eyebrows of PRAC members. “Mackle Park is our baby,” said Dolores Siegel. “If we are going to do something, we would do it here.”
“We have the usage to justify the existing space,” Portu added. “I don’t know if splitting off a third of this building is going to provide you any more value. I don’t think it should be done at the expense of making a truly impactful change at Mackle Park…We don’t want to decrease the effectiveness of the space. Great consideration was given. We want to maximize the space and minimize the issues.”
PRAC Member Michael Levine was particularly disturbed. “We put out a referendum for Mackle Park, and now we are talking about something else. It looks like we were not telling the truth, and that concerns me,” he stated.
In the end, Council Chairman Larry Sacher mentioned one other “outside-the-box” alternative, the possible municipal acquisition of the financially-strapped Baptist Church property.
“We are operating on some assumptions here,” said Sacher. “The cost guestimate is just that, and the usage gustimate is just that…I think the next step is doing an architectural RFP.”
Councilor Joe Batte agreed: “I suggest we start at 12,000 to 16,000 square feet, and bring in a professional to see how close we can get to that…Let’s bring an architect in to start this thing.”
The Council’s consensus was to focus on a facility between 12,000 and 16,000 square feet. The discussion will move forward Monday, Jan. 26, at 5:30 PM, when City Council meets again to continue its regular meeting from Tuesday, Jan. 20, which ran over the approved four-hour limit. At that time, councilors will vote on a resolution approving the square footage for the new Mackle Park Community as well as whether to stick with the current two-phase construction plan or to build the new center all at once. An architectural RFP already is in the works.