It was only a month ago that the City Council and Michael Cooper, owner of the Cooper Sportsplex, took the initial steps toward bringing an Olympic-sized swimming facility to Apopka in what would have been an unprecedented public-private partnership. Unfortunately, after only one discussion between Cooper and Apopka Recreation Director David Burgoon, the idea to bring a swimming pool to Apopka is off the table.
"We met with Mr. Cooper this week about a partnership," said Burgoon. We had a nice discussion and decided doing a private-public partnership just wasn't feasible at this time with everything that's going on at Mr. Cooper's facility. He is busy basically from 5PM-10PM during the week, and he's got things going on in there on the weekends from now until summer at least until July. So it's not a good time to try to do a partnership because he has a lot of business at the complex and not a lot of openings for us to come in and run a program."
Okay, well nice try every one. A little bit of a tease, but no harm no foul Mr. Cooper, City Staff, and City Council. You'll get 'em next time.
Like a made-for-television movie, or perhaps a more modern comparison would be a Netflix Original Production, the plot takes a significant turn. Listen to how Burgoon ends his presentation to the City Council...
"But if we wanted to entertain the idea of possibly purchasing the complex, that would be something Mr. Cooper would be willing to take a look at if Council is willing."
There was a somewhat surprised discussion among the Council before City Administrator Glenn Irby jumped in to lay out a realistic approach to a would-be City purchase of a multi-million dollar facility.
"There's actually a route that you have to take to get to that point (of purchase)," he said. "First it would have to be appraised. Or he (Cooper) could also have it appraised and the two appraisers would get together on a price somewhere in the middle. You (Council) would have to accept one or both of those. The next step would be to take it to referendum (which is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question that has been referred to them for a direct decision) because this would be General Fund Debt and likely a bond would be needed because we are talking about upwards of $10-million. And to do that with General Funds when you are paying for it with property taxes, you would have to take it to a referendum."
Irby went on to explain that a referendum would illustrate whether the public wishes to tax itself to pay the debt service on the bond. If a majority of voters approve the referendum, it passes.
As it turns out, Cooper already has the Sportsplex up for sale.
"It's listed at $6.2 million, but it's probably going to appraise at over $10-million," he said. "It's a good investment.
Cooper's concern was that people would wonder why he would sell the Sportsplex if the facility is as busy and successful as he described, but he simply wants to get back to his primary business.
"We're a construction company. We're not managers of sports complexes. We're out there busting our chops, but we're not really designed to do that - we're a construction company. We have a lot of offers to build sports complexes like this one. It's been a good ride, but I think it's time for us to get back to what we do, but it would be a tremendous opportunity for the City."
There is no telling where this discussion might lead. It doesn't seem as if it's anywhere near the City's radar, given its current City Center, Fire Station and Wastewater Treatment Plant projects on the horizon. But give the City Council, City Staff, Commissioner Billie Dean and Cooper a little credit for entertaining a forward-thinking idea and running with it to its logical conclusion.