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Future of Bay Oaks campus debated

November 7, 2019
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Most of those who spoke at a joint meeting of the Fort Myers Beach Council and Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board Oct. 29 agreed that something needs to be done to improve the facility and programming. Exactly what to do is another question.

"It's vastly underutilized," Mayor Anita Cereceda said.

Among the recreation center's offerings are a swimming pool, gymnasium, fitness center and athletic fields. There are youth and senior sports leagues, fitness classes, yoga, pilates, pickle ball, volleyball, water aerobics and swim lessons. The center also plans trips for members, including kayaking.

The Bay Oaks board has put together a three-page action plan for the campus. Alison Geisen, the Town of Fort Myers Beach staff liaison to the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board, spoke about the plan at the joint meeting.

The plan details five strategies, broadly laying out steps that can be taken to improve the facility, from expansion opportunities, improving access, introducing new programs, upgrading signage and identifying inadequacies at the campus.

Among some of the specific actions mentioned include the hiring of a public relations/event planner, identifying ways to increase revenue by analyzing membership fees and selling merchandise, promoting events better, adding special events, collaborating with other local organizations, exploring the use of a local food vendor and offering family-centered year-round programs.

Geisen said the goal "is to be able to vet this and to get on the road to be able to get this approved and get to work on the improvements which are being recommended."

Cereceda expressed concern about the state of Bay Oaks.

"You've got less than 1,100 users," she told members of the Bay Oaks board at the joint meeting last week. "If Bay Oaks was a business of mine, I would be looking to make it something else. It is obviously not serving a substantial enough portion of our community and I guess that concerns me."

Members of the advisory board said the usage during the year is higher than just the membership numbers.

Fort Myers Beach Council member Joanne Shamp sees the recreation center as having more potential uses.

"What you have is a massive piece of property that is actually a waterfront on an island that could serve so many purposes," Shamp said. "I feel that Bay Oaks could be used for a lot more."

Shamp would like the county to provide more aid for the facility, like she said the county does for Estero and Sanibel.

Cereceda noted that a substantial portion of the property can't be used for the town. There are protected mangroves on the parcel.

Much of the conversation was centered in figuring out exactly which parts of the site are owned by the town, county and school board, and how to approach the county and school boards with upgrade plans for the facility.

Town manager Roger Hernstadt said he wants "to enhance this facility, invest in our community, make sure our facilities are first class."

Council member Bruce Butcher said action should be taken quickly to improve the site.

"You don't have to wait until the roof is leaking to see the facility has lost its ability to meet the needs of the community," he said.

Town of Fort Myers Beach Council member Rexann Hosafros supports the action plan's call for the hiring of an event planner.

"I think we do need a public information officer in town for things like this," she said.

Bay Oaks board member Lee Melsek said the facility may need to be replaced.

"That place needs to go," he said. "What is the alternative? Knock down the building and do something else."

Butcher said more discussion is needed.

"It needs to change but are you talking about a $10 million place or $5 million place?"

Butcher said work on a fitness center or a small part for children can be done inexpensively instead of taking year and getting a land planner involved.

Shamp said the answer was working together with the library, school and county.

"Why build extra buildings? It makes no sense," she said.

Bay Oaks board member Rae Sprole was wary of asking the county for funds.

"Once you start taking money, that gives them the vote on what gets done," she said.

Cereceda said access has been an issue.

"One of the biggest complaints I get about Bay Oaks is from people who don't understand why there is a gate and why can't they can't go back there to the gym and work out? I've been told the kids play baseball," she said.

"Make it accessible to the rest of the world."

Geisen said the gate stopped working and is now open. She has asked staff not to park in back to make it more accessible to the public.

Bay Oaks is at 2731 Oak St.



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