The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on September 30, 2023.
OUR POSITION: The foot-dragging on making a decision about the Cultural Center’s future is puzzling.
Way back in February, Charlotte County commissioners were treated to a study funded and commissioned by the Charlotte County Community Foundation.
That report, which wasn’t cheap, took almost a year. It suggested several good uses for the Cultural Center, which was shut down because of dwindling attendance caused mostly by the COVID outbreak and financial hardship.
“There were a lot of feasible models that a public/private partnership (could pursue),” said Ashley Maher, then-executive director of the foundation, said of the report.
The next logical step was for the county to apply for a $500,000 grant to pay for a “planning process.” The rub was that the application for the grant had to be in by the end of March, less than 60 days away.
Commissioners balked. “It’ll be two years since it (Cultural Center) closed,” Tiseo said at that meeting, according to a Daily Sun story. “I really believe we need to get going with our own planning.”
Commissioner Bill Truex was also unhappy with the time frame and Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch said the county needed to move forward to get public input.
Seven months later, to our knowledge, nothing has happened.
The public, no longer worried about COVID, is itching to get its Cultural Center — or some facsimile — back.
Meanwhile, commissioners are opting for a survey. Charlotte County’s Communications office issued a news release last week providing a link to the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CulturalCenterInput. The public has until Oct. 19 to give their ideas what to do about rebuilding the Cultural Center, which was heavily damaged in Hurricane Ian.
John Vacha, who lives across the street from the center, isn’t waiting to give his opinion.
“I have been peeking through the windows and I don’t see much damage,” he said. “I think commissioners just want to get rid of the place.
“This center was wonderful. It was the hub for the community. People bought clothes there, ate lunch. I learned how to use the computer.”
Kathleen Hobbs, another Port Charlotte resident, is frustrated too.
“There is nothing for seniors to do in Charlotte County now,” she said. “And the Cultural Center wasn’t just for seniors anyway. We need it back.”
We don’t understand the hold-up. Commissioners say they are trying to figure out how to pay for the rebuilding of the Mid-County Library and the Cultural Center along with other costs — like repairs to the Charlotte County Sports Park so spring training can resume — still hanging around since Hurricane Ian.
We realize the government still owes the county a bunch of money. Charlotte County, as we wrote recently, has been paying for rebuilding from reserve funds and waiting for a big check.
Assuming the check does come, why not have a plan ready to go? The current survey is what commissioners suggested seven months ago.
There should by now be a good assessment of all the damage to the center. Listen to the public and take what is still relevant from the Foundation’s report, get with the people who can draw up a new, better Cultural Center and put the plan into action.
If the center needs to be demolished, it could have been done by now. Then, the way would be clear to start rebuilding. If damage is not that bad, as Vacha suggests, then decide what parts of the building are worth refurbishing.
It will soon be three years since the center was originally closed. That’s just too long.
Image Credits: PHOTO BY SUE ERWIN