As Visit Sarasota County moves its visitors center downtown, the Sarasota County Historical Commission wants to get the Chidsey Library space fully in the county historical resources’ grasp.
The visitors center currently coexists with the History Center museum in the Chidsey Library building at 701 N. Tamiami Trail. However, the tourism organization’s $20,000 lease with the county for the space will be up in December, and it has already secured a new location at 14 Lemon Ave.
The city owns Chidsey, but the county subleases the building; the county’s lease extends into fiscal year 2018.
Russ Gutmann, chairman of the Historical Commission, said the commission hopes to take over the space vacated by Visit Sarasota County for historical resources and expand the museum already located there. Gutmann says the Historical Commission has had conversations with county staff about its interest in the space.
The former library, which was the city’s first public library building, is home to about 25% of the county’s historical resources storage space, and it also holds some of the county’s historical collections displays.
“Chidsey is the centerpiece; if we lose that, we have to start from scratch,” he said.
The majority of the rest of the county’s historical archives and collections are housed at the County Historical Resources Center, a small building on Porter Way.
“The historical resources building is a warehouse,” Gutmann said.
The commission doesn’t believe the current storage area is sufficient, and it lacks good space for displays and presentations. Gutmann also said the construction of the new emergency center next door to the Porter Way building puts some of the more delicate historical items at risk due to the vibrations of the machinery.
Currently, the History Center museum is not staffed with full-time volunteers; members of the public can walk in and look at the displays and exhibits in the museum.
Friends of the History Center, a nonprofit organization created to help fund and promote County Historical Resources, wants to take on the lease and keep the History Center there, as well as provide volunteer work and donations. As a county advisory board, the Historical Commission cannot raise its own money for these purposes.
The Friends of the History Center plans to also have a gift shop on-site, and the proceeds would be allocated to the rent or upkeep of the building.
U.S. Masters Swimming was, at one time, another interested party in the space left vacant by Visit Sarasota County. The organization, which is a national program for adult swimming, is headquartered next door in the pagoda building. Rob Butcher, the executive director, said he met with the Friends of the History Center and offered to share the building and pay the entire rent to the county.
However, the lease between the city and the county specifies that only a historical center or another government organization can move into the spot.
Unless the city alters the lease, the U.S. Masters Swimming is not eligible to fill the space. Butcher said he is looking into other venues to expand.
• Built in 1941.
• Named after John and Ida Chidsey, who donated $25,000 for the library to be built.
• Building cornerstone holds a time capsule, which includes two newspapers.
• Held 18,000 books in 1946
• Remodeled in 1959 and gained 3,600 square feet.
• Turned into library resources space when the Selby Library was built in 1976.