If you go
What: Bonita Springs City Council meeting
When: 9 a.m. Wednesday
Where: City Hall, 9101 Bonita Beach Road
Armed with more data, the Cafe of Life will pitch to the Bonita Springs City Council on Wednesday a proposal to build a neighborhood park it would use to feed the needy on weekday mornings.
According to 141 interviews conducted by the nonprofit’s research team, 92 percent of the 137 who responded to the question are in favor of a park and 92.4 percent of the 131 who responded to the question are OK with Cafe of Life using the park. Those interviewed make up 24 percent of the 593 households in the Rosemary Park/Leitner Creek neighborhood.
The results were similar when the Cafe presented its initial findings in May — more than 90 percent wanted a park and didn’t mind if the Cafe used it. The City Council asked board members to survey more people.
So Cafe expanded its survey area to include side streets running between Rosemary and Bonita drives and both sides of Bonita Drive.
“We think that they’ve clearly spoken that they’d like to see this developed in that neighborhood, we have completed all aspects of the research that the city asked us to do and we stand ready to go ahead,” said Bruce Wheatley, Cafe’s vice chairman.
More than 300 volunteers prepare meals and serve them under the banyan tree in downtown between 9 a.m. and noon on weekdays. Since it was founded in 1998, Cafe has served more than 200,000 meals and anticipates it will serve 25,000 in 2012.
“There’s a proven need and a proven performance of Cafe of Life,” Councilman Steve McIntosh said. “I would support going ahead with their project.”
Mayor Ben Nelson also thinks the group deserves a shot. “This is a group of Bonita and Estero people who are working to do this,” said Nelson, referring to volunteer work they’ve done to help the neighborhood.
“They have taken money out of their own pockets to help that area become the safe place that it actually is now. I feel confident that they will continue to help that area become better and better and better.”
If the City Council gives the green light, city staff will ask Lee County for the property. The half-acre is left over from the Imperial Parkway extension, and county officials have agreed to donate it. The city and Cafe of Life would then work out a lease agreement where Cafe would lease the land for about $1 a year.
Wheatley said Cafe would spend $400,000 to $600,000 to build and maintain the park. “We could cover half of the cost at this point without even launching a fundraising drive,” he said. He said Cafe has invested more than $17,000 into the project on the surveys, engineering drawings and putting on a neighborhood meeting on July 29.
That event drew 68 residents, including children. Most wanted to know what kind of security would be offered. Wheatley said the park would have a security system with lights, motion sensors and cameras that will be surveyed by an outside agency in addition to patrols done by Lee County sheriff’s deputies and security guards contracted by the city.
“And then where do they go after they eat?” said Shirley Weiler of south Fort Myers, who owns a rental property in the neighborhood. She’s concerned about people roaming the neighborhood, especially since the only way in and out is more than a mile away – from Old 41 Road onto Rosemary Drive.
“There used to be quite a bit of crime in there. There hasn’t been any lately because people that are there are taking care and watching,” she said.
Cafe’s research team mailed surveys in English and Spanish to 80 non-resident property owners of Rosemary Park who live outside the neighborhood. In six weeks, only 10 were returned, half supporting Cafe’s use of the park and half opposing. The results were not viewed as valid because of the small number.
“We have a lot of young children here in the area and I believe it’d really be great for them,” said Wayne McKenna, 68, who lives in the neighborhood. He said he wouldn’t mind Cafe using the park’s pavilion to feed the needy. “There’s a lot of people around here that need it,” he said.
Cafe has estimated that 35-40 percent of its clients live in Rosemary Park. Of the households surveyed, almost 60 percent said they may use Cafe.