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Lease and funding in place for Whitney Plaza Community Center

Classes and course offerings at the center are still to be determined at the Longboat Key center.

The Whitney Plaza Community Center would be located at 6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The Whitney Plaza Community Center would be located at 6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer
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The Whitney Plaza Community Center recently received a hat trick of approvals. 

Years in the making, the Whitney Plaza Community Center finally took a major step forward after the Manatee County Commission approved the lease, interlocal agreement and funding. 

The three key components were all approved in the commission consent agenda during its Jan. 9 regular meeting. County commissioners approved the consent agenda unanimously, and the Whitney Plaza items were not pulled for further discussion.

Having all three items on the same agenda was a “pleasant surprise,” said Town Manager Howard Tipton. It was like a late Christmas present. 

“It was outstanding that they were able to come together and get that done,” Tipton said. 

Beyond what the community center will provide in terms of service, Tipton said he’s looking forward to seeing how the community center will add to the synergy of the plaza. 

“I’m excited for the businesses that are there, because this is really a nice pro-business move by leasing this space,” Tipton said. 

Residents and visitors who choose to take courses in the plaza are within walking distance of the restaurants, fitness centers and shops that are all in the plaza. 

Next, Tipton said the county and school district are working on a survey to be sent out to residents. The survey will seek to reaffirm what residents are hoping the space will provide, and will include some ideas talked about at the last community input session last summer. 

Center specifics 

Manatee County executed the lease of the property on Jan. 3, pending the Jan. 9 approval. 

The plans for the space include 6,140 square feet of the property located at 6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive. 

The plaza, known as Whitney Beach Plaza, is owned by Porter investment Holdings, LLC. 

The lease is good for four years, beginning on the effective date, and includes terms for renewal if the county chooses to do so. 

Also in the lease is a right of first refusal for the tenant, Manatee County, to install a boat dock and ramp compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“If Premises is chosen as a Manatee County Water Taxi destination, Tenant will install and warrant an ADA-compliant boat dock and ramp to accommodate 75’ boat, with all necessary lighting, permitting and safety precautions,” the lease reads. 

Although talks of a ramp for the Gulf Islands Ferry have been informal, the local neighborhood group Longboat Key North has expressed that the 27 homeowners and condo associations on the north end of the island are in opposition to the idea

The monthly payment for the lease is $11,256.67 and will be paid for by the county. 

The lease permits the county to operate “for governmental purposes, and/or as a Center for Classes operated by the School Board of Manatee County.” 

That being said, the second component approved at the county’s Jan. 9 meeting was an interlocal agreement between the county and the School District of Manatee County. 

Through this agreement, Manatee Technical College will be primarily responsible for operating the space under the direction of Paul Gansemer, executive director for the Adult, Career and Technical Education department. 

The “Center for Classes” outlined in the interlocal agreement looks to provide “fee-based adult enrichment classes for residents of Manatee County.” 

To Tipton's knowledge, though, classes and events at the community center would be open to all residents and visitors, not just those residing in Manatee County. 

Previous conversations in community input sessions and at previous commission meetings showed residents’ interest in classes but also other uses for the space, such as meeting space for community groups and art studio space. 

Though Gansemer was unable to be reached before press time, Tipton said Gansemer is very engaged in the project and wants to ensure its success with residents. 

The interlocal agreement was signed on Dec. 15 and was awaiting final approval during the Jan. 9 meeting. 

The third item approved at the meeting was the funding for the space. 

Rent for the first year was included in the budget item, which totals $135,080.

An additional $1.2 million was approved, an amount needed for a complete remodel of the space. This was first brought up by the county’s Property Acquisition Division Manager Charles Meador at an Oct. 31 joint meeting between the county and town. 

Talks about this project began back in 2021 when current co-chair of Longboat Key North Maureen Merrigan was serving on the Town Commission. 

Merrigan discussed the opportunity and community desire for the space with Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, during which time they identified the space at Whitney Beach Plaza. 

Former Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer and former Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes picked up those conversations, and a lease was ready to go according to Merrigan. 

But in February 2023, Hopes left his position and Harmer was to be replaced by Tipton. The shuffling of staff was suspected to have caused a pause in discussion about the space. 

Merrigan continued to press the desire for the community space in email correspondence with Van Ostenbridge, and eventually it was picked back up later in 2023.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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