Cover Story

Fighting poverty and leveraging greed

"Fighting poverty and leveraging greed" Continued...

Issue: "Clutching two, dropping four," April 23, 2011

Eighteen years later, City of Palms Park is still in great shape, but the Red Sox threatened to move to Sarasota unless Lee County would build a new complex just south of the city limits with more seats and luxury boxes, and a configuration identical with Boston's Fenway Park, including a left field wall. The commissioners assented, and the Red Sox in late March played their last game in City of Palms.

Since most of the cash Fort Myers taxpayers have forked over for the ballpark has gone to paying interest, they still owe $18 million on a facility that will now be unused by any major league team. This led News-Press columnist Cook to declare, "If our trio of [county] commissioners had guts, they would have called Boston's bluff and said, 'It's City of Palms Park or nothing.'" But government bodies at all levels, like individuals, tend to look for big fixes rather than incremental improvements.

Red Sox officials defend their decision. Manager Terry Francona said the new ballpark "will be a really cool facility. All the fields in the same area. Outfielders learning all the Fenway angles. It will be great." But it's also great that the Detroit Tigers last month celebrated 75 years of spring training in Lakeland. Newly refurbished "Tigertown" is a bright spot in economically depressed Lakeland, along with a renovated downtown and a pretty campus for booming Southeastern University, an Assemblies of God college.

It's great as well that the Pittsburgh Pirates are staying in Bradenton's McKechnie Field, built in 1923 in the style of a Spanish mission: USA Today called McKechnie the "Fenway Park" of spring training ballparks. In 2008 the Pirates signed a new 30-year lease after the city installed lights and created new and expanded clubhouses.

The prospects of the Fort Myers neighborhood surrounding City of Palms Park are not great. But the Lee County Sports Authority, which manages City of Palms, says all is not lost. A spring break college baseball tournament is on the schedule for next March, and the park will have four months of amateur baseball tournaments forecast to bring in tourist dollars.

Those small gains may not be enough for Lee County commissioners, who are contemplating a plan to take another $36 million from taxpayers to transform the ballpark into an Olympic-caliber swimming facility that would bring in national events and allow the neighborhood to live happily ever after.

Since 1993 Edison Avenue in Fort Myers has had not only the ballpark but two other anchors. At the western end sits the laboratory and winter home of Thomas Alva Edison, the 19th- and early 20th-century inventor. Three months after he started school the schoolmaster kicked him out: Young Edison was disruptive, unfocused, and so out of control that nothing good would ever come of him.

That, of course, is not the end of the story. His mom homeschooled him. He never received any other formal education. He had read all the classics by the time he was 12. He received 1,093 U.S. patents in his lifetime, including at least one each year for 65 years-for incandescent electric lamps, phonographs, radios, and tattoo machines.

On the eastern half of Edison Avenue sits the other anchor, Dunbar High School and a vast array of small churches. Signs give a sense of economic reality: "Larry's Pawn Shop. E-Z Credit. We buy houses: CASH. Used Tires and Rims. Cash for Gold." What happens today to the many tattooed teens in classrooms who are disruptive, unfocused, and out of control?

Two sets of signs on Edison last month proposed hope of differing kinds for those kids. Those advertising "Florida's Future: 3-on-3 basketball tournament" suggested the popular alternative that provides a ticket out for one among thousands. Other signs were for the Dunbar Gospel Association. The Gospel can give a ticket out to anyone who is underwater.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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