Seduced by the romance of Red Sox baseball, we have fallen into a financial trap that is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to escape. A baseball game in the spring makes a fun, even sentimental, day. But there is a business side that cannot and must not be obscured by sentimentality.
Simply put, we have overspent satisfying the lavish demands of the Red Sox, thereby impairing our ability to meet the basic mission of our tourism development effort: fund programs that would level the too seasonal character of tourism here. We now have little choice but to continue to spend limited "tourist tax" dollars on baseball while either: neglecting offseason promotion, reducing beach re-nourishment programs, devoting even more general tax revenues to tourism promotion or raising the "tourist tax" - creating a price disadvantage for local businesses.
None of these choices are good business.
The "boom or bust" nature of excessively seasonal tourism makes it very hard for a tourism-dependent business to make it through the long, hot summers. Excessive public investment in baseball during the height of "the season" now threatens the availability of funds to promote "offseason" tourism.
We know baseball brings in money. Otherwise billionaires wouldn't buy baseball teams and players would not become millionaires - yet their playground is built on the backs of the little guy. Even if spring training does heighten high season, it does nothing to level the offseasons or help struggling merchants make it through the rest of the year.
Yet here is an eye opener. A recent study shows the two baseball teams bring in $50 million annually. But did you know according to The Snook Foundation, "Lee County has led the state in snook stamps. In the recent past (they) figured the value of snook fishing by stamp holders to be worth almost $600 million for Lee and Charlotte Counties."
That's just for snook.
What if we had spent $84 million not on a stadium but on watershed improvement programs around Estero Bay - similar to Fort Myers' Billy Creek Filter Marsh, which drastically cuts down on contaminates pouring into the Caloosahatchee? We could have done a lot of restoration. Ernest Hemingway wrote how he imagined walking across Estero Bay on the backs of tarpon because there were so many. What if we were to make a serious commitment to cleaning up the bay? Returning it to its natural status as a fish hatchery and nursery would make Estero Bay an economic engine that would rival the beaches themselves - year round for fishermen.
- Warren Wright of Fort Myers is a member of the Lee County Tourism Development Council and a former Fort Myers City Council member.