Cooper Street back on Punta Gorda city council agenda

By, ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH, STAFF WRITER, The Daily Sun, Jan 2, 2024. 

PUNTA GORDA — A request for a nonprofit group to operate the Cooper Street Recreation Center is on the Punta Gorda City Council agenda for Wednesday.

Despite the New Cooper Street Board of Directors supplying the city with required documentation, the City Council last year voted to do a request for proposal to any nonprofits interested in running the center.

At the 9 a.m. meeting Wednesday at the Military Heritage Museum, the council will review a proposed temporary lease agreement with the New Cooper Street Rec board to continue running the center for six months, as well as a request for bids from any nonprofit to operate the center once that temporary lease has expired.

The center, located in a predominately Black community, is owned by the city. The lease with the New Cooper Street board ends in 2025.

Representatives of the New Cooper Street board say they were never allowed to do a presentation before the Punta Gorda City Council before it voted to end the lease.

However, David Levin, attorney for the city, deemed that lease, which he signed on behalf of the city, as null and void because it doesn’t meet the requirements of a public purpose.

Four of the council members voted for the city to draft a new request for operation of the building. Council Member Debi Lux, voting against a new request for an operation agreement, argued that this isn’t done to other nonprofits who operate or rent city facilities.

Over the years, the New Cooper Street Board reported it made “significant improvements to the building, including new flooring and remodeling restrooms to make them ADA compliant at a cost of over $100,000,” according to board president Jaha Cummings.

According to the draft request for proposal on the city’s website, the winning bidder must give to the city each year a strict accounting of costs associated with running the center, along with revenues generated by the facility.

The nonprofit must allow the city to “inspect and audit lessee’s accounts, books, and records relating to its management and operation of the building.”

Last year, some council members were concerned about the transparency of the New Cooper Street Board. Among those concerns is that it didn’t have its own child care group, allowing the YMCA to rent the facility to offer child care, after-school and summer activities.

It’s something Cummings said the council at one time celebrated, but it’s now essentially condemning the board for that partnership.

The New Operation Cooper Street rents the building annually for $1.

In the new proposal, nonprofits must tell the city what they are willing to pay for rent.

There will be a committee established to review the bids. The highest bidder will then be allowed to make a presentation before the City Council for approval.