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"Just been sitting there": Lawsuit delays future for Ft Myers City of Palms Park

The lawsuit is challenging the validity of the city's bidding selection process.
Posted at 4:45 PM, Mar 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-15 17:49:03-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The City of Palms Park is expected to get a makeover, but there's a problem: there's a lawsuit against the city of Fort Myers about the redevelopment.

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson says it's "just been sitting there" for more than a decade. The Boston Red Sox left in 2012 after the county built Jet Blue Park for the team.

Since then, it's been used sporadically for Florida Southwestern College games. Otherwise, the stadium continues to deteriorate.

Leaders decided to start thinking about the stadium's future, but the process has been full of roadblocks. And some of those roadblocks have been an issue with other projects.

This started with four companies giving proposals for the project. The idea, for some, was to bring in a professional soccer team and other development around the stadium in Midtown.

"Council wanted to score the proposals," Anderson said. "I was never a big fan of that because I think that's an operational function, not a policy function."

City Manager Marty Lawing made a recommendation to council members, suggesting that his staff do the score and Council would approve or deny that recommendation.

When they put Lawing's suggestion to a vote, it was a tie, meaning the motion failed.

Council members scored the four proposals and there was what Anderson calls a "glitch in the scoring process."

In the scoring sheets Fox 4 obtained, Councilman Liston Bochette III voted nearly all zeroes for all three proposals. He only gave scores for one proposal.

Palms Park scoring sheet Liston Bochette

Other council members put down zeroes sporadically, mainly for the minority category. Council member Terolyn Watson did not score them because she was not at the meeting.

When Fox 4 senior reporter Kaitlin Knapp asked Bochette for comment, a spokesperson said he was unavailable for comment and that there would be an update on Monday at City Council.

"There's something wrong if two people can listen to the same presenter and be that far off," Anderson said.

— Ft Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson

Based on the score, the company, Pitch Prime, came in first and United Soccer League got second.

Anderson says the score did not mean they were going to award them the contract, but rather start negotiating with that company.

However, USL didn't see it that way and filed a lawsuit, trying to stop the city from awarding a contract. The city has not yet been served with the lawsuit, as of March 15.

In the 100-page lawsuit, it claims the city's actions were improper and questions the validity of the selection process.

The lawsuit also notes a scale of 1-5 used on the score sheet and some voted zero. However, the score sheet does list some categories on a scale up to 35.

USL's lawyer declined to comment on the lawsuit.

"Now we're going be delayed even further," Anderson said.

This isn't the first time there's been an issue like this when it comes to scoring.

Fox 4 obtained scoring records from the Edison Restaurant lease. In those sheets, there were many zeroes from Bochette and Watson.

Bochette's Edison Restaurant score
Watson's Edison Restaurant score

So, Palms Park will continue to sit until all of this can be resolved. Anderson says between electricity and maintenance, it's costing you — the taxpayers — $500,000 a year.

"Years ago this should've been addressed," he said. "We have to quit getting in the way of staff. This project is important to midtown, downtown and the entire city."

On March 18, a City Council agenda shows they will discuss the status of the project at the 4:30 p.m. meeting. Fox 4's Senior Reporter Kaitlin Knapp will be there so you can hear what happens.