Cooper Street Rec: Charting a new course for Punta Gorda

The following opinion was written by Jaha Cummings and published in The Daily Sun on Nov 15, 2023. 

As a deeply invested fifth-generation resident of Punta Gorda, I am privileged to witness the transformative role of the Cooper Street Recreation Center in our community. This center is not just a physical space but a symbol of our collective future, blending the wisdom of our past with the promise of new opportunities.

The strategic partnership established through the 2015 Lease Amendment between the city and the Cooper Street Recreation Center Board has been a cornerstone of this transformation.

This legal framework, meticulously vetted just one year ago by the city for its compliance and suitability, has empowered the Cooper Street Board to forge dynamic partnerships. These collaborations with programmatic partners like the FGCU Small Business Development Center (SBDC), YMCA, Area Agency on Aging for SWFL, Gulfshore Opera, Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), and American Association of University Women are more than alliances; they are the lifeblood of community enrichment and empowerment.

Within just the first year of the SBDC’s integration into the community through being located at Cooper Street’s Education & Career Resource Library, we have witnessed a significant impact. For the first time since the tragic dissolution of the Historic Cochran Street Business District (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) by city action in 1968, through its support of the community activities at Cooper Street Recreation Center, the city is doing its part to support small business owners in the Downtown Historic District. This is not just a step towards economic revitalization; it represents a healing of old wounds and a reclaiming of our community’s narrative.

The presence of the SBDC, along with other programmatic partners at Cooper Street has ignited a renaissance of entrepreneurial spirit and community engagement. The center has become a hub for innovation, learning, and intergenerational collaboration, combining the energy of our youth with the experience of our retirees.

By embracing new technologies, such as hydroponic towers, and establishing makerspaces, we are equipping our community for the careers of the future, ensuring that Punta Gorda remains a beacon of progress and sustainability.

The Cooper Street Recreation Center stands as a testament to what can be achieved when a community unites under a shared vision of growth, inclusivity, and innovation. Our journey is one of rediscovering our roots while boldly embracing new horizons. As we move forward, I am filled with hope and excitement for the future of Punta Gorda, confident that our collective efforts at the Cooper Street Recreation Center will continue to foster a community that is vibrant, resilient, and thriving.

Jaha Cummings, as the president of Cooper Street Recreation Center and a former City Council member. Cooper Street Recreation Center is a multi-generational center located in the Punta Gorda Historic District and serving Charlotte County.