The Whitney Plaza Community Center is still a ways off, but Manatee County officials assured Longboat Key commissioners that progress is being made behind the scenes.
At the Oct. 31 joint meeting between the county and town, Property Acquisition Division Manager for Manatee County Charles Meador emphasized that the project is a partnership with the school board.
With two parties entering an interlocal agreement as well as a lease agreement, it takes time to communicate back and forth and get all the required signatures.
“I think all sides would like to get this finalized,” Meador said.
The latest update Meador provided was that the county asked the school board for a markup, including some more specifics as to what kinds of activities are anticipated for the space. The interlocal agreement is in draft form and is in the hands of the school board, pending feedback about the specific activities.
“The area will need a complete build-out,” Meador said.
The $1.2 million anticipated remodel will be paid for by the county, and is expected to take about seven months to complete.
Meador said the county will hire an architect for the remodel, and will also manage the lease.
Once the center is up and running, Meador expects operating costs to be around $135,000 a year, or $11,200 a month.
The lease also gives the county first right of refusal for the property’s boat ramp, which Meador said could hold potential for a future Gulf Islands Ferry stop.
Manatee County District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge mentioned recent discussions with the Longboat Key North in which residents expressed interest in classes about history of the island and marine science.
Van Ostenbridge said there is a possibility for instructors from Manatee Technical College or county high schools to lead those, if the idea maintains interest.
Longboat Key District 2 Commissioner Penny Gold suggested maybe some studio space could be set aside for both local artists and classroom space.
Another idea thrown out by Longboat Key District 5 Commissioner Debbie Murphy was mentorship programs, utilizing retired residents on the island who could provide career insights to interested students.
When Van Ostenbridge joined the commission in 2020, Longboat Key officials had a much different attitude toward the county.
“The relationship between Longboat Key and the county was quite strained at that time,” Van Ostenbridge said. “It seemed like the town felt that they had been greatly ignored and sort of neglected out there.”
Van Ostenbridge said he immediately went to work mending fences between the county and town, which went “really well.” He wanted to maintain the relationship so that Longboat Key would stay within the Manatee County community.
But to do that, he saw the need to have a greater presence on the island. From this, the idea for a community center was born.