Town Commissioner Lynn Larson and former Mayor Ron Johnson are hoping to form a non-profit foundation to raise money for a new community center on the island.
Johnson told The Longboat Observer that Larson approached him last month to help form a group of citizens who are interested in raising money for a new facility at Bayfront Park Recreation Center, 4052 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Johnson, who attempted to form a similar foundation when he was mayor of Longboat Key, believes this effort “has a lot of potential.”
“People scatter to find a place to meet on this island,” Johnson said. “We need a single place for all citizens to be able to use for a variety of purposes.”
Johnson points to the Anna Maria Island Community Center as an example of what can be accomplished on Longboat Key.
The 50-year-old Anna Maria Island Community Center opened its new facility in 2007, by seeking donations from the public and currently offers more than 1.5 million hours of various programs each year.
On Saturday, Johnson pointed out, the Anna Maria Island Community Center held a dinner, dance and auction to raise more than $200,000 for its center.
“If the residents of Anna Maria Island can support their center, I’m certain the residents of Longboat Key would support a similar effort,” Johnson said.
Longboat Key Garden Club President Jackie Salvino agrees.
At the Town Commission’s goals-and-objectives workshop last month, Salvino sought support for a new community center.
“I am certain that if this town works hard to attract donations like Anna Maria did, we can attract donations for a first-class recreation center that Longboat Key would be proud of,” Salvino said.
And the Longboat Key Club and Resort could become a donor for a new community center.
It has been suggested by Planning and Zoning Board member George Symanski Jr., Key resident Phillip Younger and some members of the Town Commission that a concession of approval for the club’s $400 million Islandside renovation-and-expansion project should be a donation of $4 million or more toward a new community center.
Key Club General Manager Michael Welly said he told Larson the club would be discussing a possible donation to the recreation center as a condition of approval for its project in the future.
“A recreation-center donation has been discussed at the hearings and is obviously a controversial issue that’s been raised,” Welly said. “I certainly expressed that I would be willing to include my participation in this as a part of the conditions for the project.”
Welly, however, believes a $4 million condition is too large.
“I thought the number suggested was an enormous amount of money,” Welly said.
Welly said he is also willing to consider a personal donation as a Key resident.
“I have produced a list of people who also might be interested in participating in this endeavor,” Welly said.
Larson is excited that her idea is gaining traction.
Said Larson: “I truly believe this is a worthwhile endeavor that our citizens will get behind and support enthusiastically.”
Commissioner Jim Brown, the former chairman of a community advisory committee formed in 2002 to build a new community center, was also happy to hear the news.
Brown’s committee worked to create drawings for a new center, only to have the concept voted down in a 2003 referenda vote.
Brown, however, believes the plans for a center in 2003 were defeated only because the issue was placed on the ballot at a time when issues with the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department and the fees it was charging customers were being raised.
“I applaud any attempt to get a new community center project moving again,” said Brown, whose committee came to the conclusion that a private-public funding effort would work on the Key. “I still believe the residents of this Key would support a community center.”
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